Skip to comments.1500-acre Lancaster Co. dairy farm runs on 'cow juice'
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."
If someone can figure out a way to harness Alfraud Gore’s BS they’ll have hit the mother lode.
Need to get a couple hundred of these things and hook them up to all the hog waste lagoons down in eastern North Carolina.
With innovations like this the US can literally sh-t itself to energy self-sufficiency. Need more power, just feed the cows laxatives.
In slightly over 227 years the system will pay for itself. Sounds like the wave of the future...way in the future.
Shades of “Beyond Thunderdome”.
I suspect that a lot of our future energy needs, especially out of dense urban areas, will be met with micro-energy generation, and technologically advanced conservation, by whatever is most cost effective there.
Importantly, there are two ways of looking at this. The left always tells everyone to “do with less”. But the smart money tells people to “keep improving”. Have more, save more, and pay less. Technology is your friend if you use it wisely. Doing with less, or paying more, just means you were fooled.
Renewable Energy PING?
assuming the average home spends 100.00 a month on electricity, they can produce enough for 200.00 homes.
200x$100.00=20,000.00 per month.
That is 240,000.00 per year.
I am aware of some large dairy operations in Minnesota that have built anaerobic digesters.
A few have produced so much energy that they have sold it back to a local power co-op.
“Who run Bartertown?”
The secret here is this phrase buried in the article:
He said energy prices and government grants are what has made the digesters successful.So, we're ALL helping these gadgets pay for themselves. How cute!
There’s a definite regional need for anaerobic digesters.
Iowa is another state that has a lot of large-scale swine feedlots. Disposing of the manure has always been an issue and has led to some feedlots being denied a license partially on the basis that they couldn’t promise a good way of disposing of the manure.
In western Minnesota, there are a lot of turkey and chicken farms and obviously, they produce a lot of dropping, manure, etc. One power plant, in Benson, is fired entirely by turkey droppings. So far, it has proven to be successful.
Click on this link for more info:
I respectfully disagree with the scoffers here. I applaud those who seek to use alternative energy sources. Yeah, its not much but the mere fact they are pushing the envelope to try something new means a lot. I want to drill for oil as much as anyone, and think it’s almost criminal that our leaders refuse to drill in ANWR and off-shore, but we need to really push the development of new energy NOW.
“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.”
That’s pretty remarkable: just three or four cows produce enough methane to produce energy for an average home.
I agree with you. It is a wonder that America still has people that can take an idea and run with it.
so ? they could be bring in about $ 20,000 a month from those homes.
In 5 months, they have $100,000, I am guessing this system will pay for it self in about 2 to 3 years. “
All this sounds fantastic. But they are selling it to the power company so I doubt they’d get full retail price. The power company should still get a cut for receiving the power from the dairy and distributing it over their power grid to customers.
Back in the ‘60s my hometown sewage plant had an engine that ran on methane gas from the break down of the waste. It ran a generator that produced electricity.
I wonder if Michael Yoder is related to a Yoder’s Dairy down in the Virginia Beach area.
Anyway, the larger point from this article is this: alternative fuel sources will only develop once they are financially feasible and that will occur only when the price of oil goes higher than the market actually will bear.
If we were ever to run out of oil, truly, or have supplied cut off in a real way, America would go through a few rough patches, but before too long our engineers and entrepreneurs and everybody else in the ingenuity business would be coming up with all kinds of fixes to get the job done.
Why don’t you shoot a link to this story to folks down there?
I’m wondering why this digester has to cost $1M and, apparently, be viable only for large dairies.
The concept sounds like a tank with bacteria in it that digest the manure. Can’t that be made on a variety of scales?
I’d rather have the guvmint subsidize this than corn production for ethanol!
Your comment about a “regional need” for digesters got me thinking. Is this the sort of thing that manure (etc.) could be trucked to so that a bunch of producers in a region could dispose of their stuff this way and make electricity at the same time?
IOW, I know it would add to the cost to have to transport the waste, but might it be worthwhile in some cases? And is it doable?
Another reason I'd say there's something intelligent about the design here.
Excellent question. I don’t have the answer.
But I do know a number of groups and organizations have been crunching the numbers regarding transporting of manure.
In a previous post, I mentioned that there’s a power plant in western Minnesota that’s fueled by turkey droppings. There are many turkey farms in that area so the transport cost is pretty reasonable.
However, I’d prefer the Imperial Government get out of farming altogether and let the free market take over.
Never forget why the government subsidizes - to influence behavior.
The 2006 price of residential electricity in the United States is 10.4 cents per kWh. Might be slightly more in PA.
So at max of 4,000 kWh a day, it’s $400 a day.
So it’s less than 10 years for break even, and if the price of power continues to climb, it will be quicker.
There are grants and low interest loans available from the gov, local, state and Federal.
Looks like a reasonable investment.
Please see my post on the math.
Please see my post on the math.
This must be a poster child for the democrat party, right?
Please see my post #25 on the math. Don’t think they can sell it at retail customer rate.
The politicians (esp the democraps) there produce enough bullcrap to generate electricity for 250,000 homes (at least)!!
I read about some biofuel plant in Ireland that picked up the waste and transported it to the plant for free. I guess the economics worked for them that way.
At merchant power rates of 0.04 $/kWh plus the monthly savings of $4,000/month for sawdust bedding, I calculate a simple payback of less than 10 years (ignoring cost of capital and ignoring O&M costs). Add in those, and payback is probably less than 20 years.
If the farm were required to install odor control, the payback would be a lot less.
This actually sounds like it might be a decent investment.
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.
Pennsylvania’s residental rate is slightly over $.10/kwh. but since the dairy would not pay residental rates it wouldn’t recieve residental rate credits.
Given the lack of details all our calculations are a bit of guess work. We don’t know how much the grants were, was any money borrowed to pay for the digester and if so with what terms?, or the cost of operating the digester.
Still it’s a good idea but whether it can be done at or above a break even point is another question.
In Mt View, California, the city built an outdoor music theater on top of a recently capped landfill. They forgot to put in a methane collection system, and during the first year of operation you had to be very careful about lighting cigarettes! No joke.
It might well be but the article doesn’t have enough details to allow for much more than calculated guesses.
yes it could. Think of all the poultry farms across the country. Fryers are raised to 7 to 8 weeks and then houses cleaned out. It would work there as well.
I was using 6.8 cents for my calc and came up with payback on power sales alone ($99,280.00 / year) in 10 years , the $4k in savings on bedding a month is another $48K per year bonus ... payback in under 7 years ..
wholesale electricity prices in PA .. http://www.econstats.com/fut/xeiae_em2.htm
None of this is anything new. There are folks in India building thier own biogas plants to generate cooking gases. These plants use kitchen scraps to produce enough methane to cook three meals a day for a family of four.
If methane can be harnessed this way, my brother-in-law alone should be able to light up Texas all by himself!