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1500-acre Lancaster Co. dairy farm runs on 'cow juice'
Centre Daily Times ^ | Apr. 26, 2008 | Michael Yoder

Posted on 04/26/2008 8:08:51 PM PDT by Lorianne

MOUNT JOY, Pa. — The Brubaker family never thought they would be in the energy business, but today their dairy farm is creating enough electricity to light a small town.

Hundreds of people, ranging from politicians to local farmers, were at Brubaker Farms in Mount Joy earlier this month to help unveil a new anaerobic manure digester that has been producing as much as 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a day since December - enough electricity to power as many as 200 homes.

Mike Brubaker, who runs the farm in partnership with his father, Luke, and his brother, Tony, said delving into energy production has been a "new adventure" on the 1,500-acre dairy farm, creating what they have dubbed "cow power."

"Our focus has always been on quality food production which it will continue to be but now we're also taking a look at how to better use our resources that we have to work with," Mike Brubaker said. "So that's why we're taking a dual approach, looking at how we can make energy out of another product coming from our good cows that we love."

The Brubakers said the high price of fuel and rising grain prices for livestock feed have forced farmers to look for alternatives to add value to their farms. They also are looking to improve efficiency on the farm, so they waste as little as possible.

Through years of research, the Brubakers discovered manure digester systems.

The digester breaks down manure collected from livestock. The methane gas from the digestion process is harnessed and is fed into an engine that generates electricity.

The Brubakers installed the engine last year. The farm uses a small percentage of the electricity, and the rest is fed through power lines directly into the energy grid.

Although the digester cost more than $1 million to build, the Brubakers said rising energy prices makes projects like it more feasible and cost-effective. Power companies have also been forced through legislation to pay a fair market rate for energy put into the grid something they have not had to do in the past.

Solid waste from the digester is also used for animal bedding instead of sawdust a savings of as much as $4,000 a month. The Brubakers sell some of the solid waste as high-quality mulch.

Mike Brubaker said there are serious environmental benefits to the digester, including decreasing manure odor by as much as 90 percent and keeping methane gas out the atmosphere.

"We can really get excited about teaming up an economic benefit along with an environmental benefit," he said. "It's a real win-win situation."

At least three other digester projects have been built in Lancaster County. Harlan Keener, a former West Lampeter Township hog farmer, installed a digester to create electricity in 1985.

Mark Moser, president of RCM International of California, the developer of the digester, said his firm has installed 70 digesters across the U.S., including one at Turkey Hill Dairy.

Moser said the digesters started taking off in popularity around 2000 when energy prices started to rise. He said energy prices and government grants are what has made the digesters successful.

Moser said the technology is improving with the use of better engines that produce more energy.

"It's always gratifying to light the flare, start the engine and make electricity," Moser said. "It's the fun of the job."

Luke Brubaker, who got into farming more than 30 years ago with 18 cows, said he never would have imagined he would be producing electric.

Now the 730 cows on the family farm have added a new dimension to their dairy production. He said each day three to four cows can produce enough electricity for an average home.

"We're not using our grains to make electricity here," Luke Brubaker said. "We're using something that we were just losing into the air before. I think it's going to be a wave of the future on larger dairies where you can capture that methane from the manure."

TOPICS: Business/Economy; US: Pennsylvania
KEYWORDS: energy
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To: MplsSteve
The last time we tried it back in the 70's, the problem was that in order to produce the methane, the slurry had to be kept at such a high temperature that the energy expended to heat the manure slurry mix was about equal to the output.

Maybe they came up with some new microbes which like the cold better. Keeping 50,000 gallons of wet manure @105 degrees in -20 degree weather is not esay. If it got too cold, all the bacteria would en masse, die off.

51 posted on 04/27/2008 4:33:06 AM PDT by blackdog
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To: Will88
The power company should still get a cut for receiving the power from the dairy and distributing it over their power grid to customers.

The article said "fair market value," which should mean that the farm should get paid what other electrical companies get paid when their company buys electricity, possibly excluding some infrastructure fees. It certainly shouldn't be the retail price that home owners nor businesses pay.


52 posted on 04/27/2008 4:37:22 AM PDT by MarkL
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To: Techster
Add in interest charges on the million bucks before getting anyone excited about the return.
53 posted on 04/27/2008 4:43:06 AM PDT by Mark was here (The earth is bipolar.)
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To: Mark was here

One of our electric utilities wanted to include an anaerobic digester in its new (and much needed) coal plant. The governor, disregarding all laws and regs, denied the whole project...but did allow another utility (which has been very good to her campaign)to charge anything it pleases if it will put up a few wind turbines.
Oh, and she thinks she’ll be your next Vice President.

54 posted on 04/27/2008 5:54:23 AM PDT by Kanzan
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To: RegulatorCountry
Need to get a couple hundred of these things and hook them up to all the hog waste lagoons down in eastern North Carolina.

Try driving I-10 going east into El Paso, TX some day, as I did about a year and a half ago. You travel through, and smell the effluvia of, at least ten miles of feed lots strung along the interstate. Something like this might be feasible there and do a lot for the travelers who have to run the gauntlet.

55 posted on 04/27/2008 6:46:30 AM PDT by libstripper
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To: libstripper

Another thing we found, is that methane digesters are extremely dangerous. Storage is a real problem.

56 posted on 04/28/2008 3:52:39 AM PDT by blackdog
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To: blackdog
Another thing we found, is that methane digesters are extremely dangerous. Storage is a real problem.

What's dangerous about the digesters? What are the storage problems, and do those problems involve the methane or something else? These are both non-antagonistic technical questions, especially because, on its surface, this looks like a promising technology for turning a definite pollutant into economical energy.

57 posted on 04/28/2008 6:13:49 AM PDT by libstripper
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To: libstripper
We had a home made system. We used a tank which had to be heated via a water jacket to keep the slurry @100 to 105 approx. The gas was piped into an above ground pool with a stainless steel dome which floated on the water. You need to have some sort of pressure controlled collection system. The gas would perk up thru the pool. The weight of the stainless steel dome would serve as a regulator. It would rise and lower based on volume of gas with a steady output pressure. Our problem was microbial blooms and die-offs. The blooms resuled in a lot of methane belches which would ignite on occasion since we had the burner for the heating system about 50' from the pool.

I guess if you kept your holding/regulating system far away from the barns (like 1000'), that would work better.

I guess if we'd spent a few million on technology we'd have come out better. We spent about $2,500 and used scrap/farm fabricated materials. We could have used it for our house needs from May thru September. Once it dropped to the teens and below it was not feasible. Too much energy spent to heat the slurry.

58 posted on 04/28/2008 7:19:17 AM PDT by blackdog
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In case anyone is interested:

RCM International, LLC -- Home Page

59 posted on 04/28/2008 7:58:35 AM PDT by brityank (The more I learn about the Constitution, the more I realise this Government is UNconstitutional !!)
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To: libstripper

And FWIW, our insurance company would not continue our policy with an on-site methane digester. We did have some really impressive fireballs.

60 posted on 04/28/2008 11:25:10 AM PDT by blackdog
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To: JRochelle; count-your-change

You both are using residential rates for electricity.

Power Plants don’t get paid residential billing rates.

Residential rates include the cost of thousands of miles of transmission and distribution line, substations, local transfromers and meters, billing departments and line maintenance.

Power plants are only part of that rate. There are lots of expenses when you are the whole utility system.

61 posted on 04/28/2008 11:44:26 AM PDT by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: count-your-change
Under Net Metering Policy Pennsylvania has to basically run your electric meter backwards or another meter forward to pay you for electricity you generate thus essentially paying retail rates to the generating cutomer.

If you are residential sized this is true. But if you are a small power plant, this law does not apply or people would be building Natural Gas Turbine generators all over the state.

62 posted on 04/28/2008 11:47:28 AM PDT by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney
True, but as I added there is not enough detail in the article and each application would have its own set of calculations.
And as I further added using a digester might make be a good idea just from the stand point of getting rid of waste even if it were a break-even operation.
But whether it is or not large producers of waste like dairy farms are going to continue to face restrictions on odors and how much manure can be dumped on fields so I expect that if I were a dairy farmer I would get all the grants and low interest loans I could while they are available to finance the inevitable.
Taking the bull by the horns in order to take the cow by the udder as it were.
63 posted on 04/28/2008 12:09:09 PM PDT by count-your-change (you don't have to be brilliant, not being stupid is enough.)
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To: Techster

lol.. thank you for the correction, I was just guessing.

64 posted on 04/30/2008 8:07:55 PM PDT by Prophet in the wilderness (PSALM .53 : 1 The FOOL hath said in his heart, there is no GOD.)
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