May 23, 2007 | General

Building A Manure Management Model For U.S. Farms

BioCycle May 2007, Vol. 48, No. 5, p. 59
Proven successful in much of Europe, community digesters use cooperative approach to diversify risk and investment in energy recovery facilities.
Bill Cetti

TODAY’S animal farmers can no longer be “just” experts on animal management, but must be knowledgeable on environmental laws and rules, worldwide economics, risk management and more.
The complexity of animal farm operations continues to grow as automation, regulations and the pressure to increase herd size push the farmer toward a collision with the environment. To remain competitive, farmers have had to increase the number of animals per acre of land and to deal with the inevitable by-product of manure. The age-old solution of manure disposal by land application is quickly becoming a problem for many farmers as the increased amount of manure from larger herds result in nutrients potentially piling up on the land and eventually migrating into water sources. It was the potential nutrient contamination of the water sources that led to the new EPA regulations and stricter control of manure disposal practices on the farm.
Recognizing the importance of improving manure disposal practices, many farmers have taken actions without regulatory mandates. These actions include: Increasing the amount of land available for manure spreading by purchasing or leasing nearby croplands; Selling or providing manure to nearby farms that don’t have animals and need fertilizer; Separating manure at the farm into liquids and solids through mechanical separators using the composted solids for bedding or similar applications which remove part of the nutrients from the disposal chain; Covering lagoons to improve odor control and the manure digestion process; and Building anaerobic digesters.
Throughout the U.S., there are widely available manure resources distributed among a range of livestock types and manure management systems. While manure is a potentially important resource for both fertilizer and biogas electric generation, improving disposal practices at a farm is very costly and provides little or no economic reward for the farmer.
“The challenge facing the bioenergy industry is how to build anaerobic digester facilities that help farmers better manage manure disposal and minimize economic penalties,” says Frank Wowkowych, Chairman, Bioenergy Cooperative of Perry. “We believe that our collaborative approach to better manure management is a solution that addresses many of the problems with manure disposal investments, and that our solution can be replicated throughout the U.S.”
The Bioenergy Cooperative of Perry (Figure 1) is building a community digester that will process 34,000 gallons per day of liquid manure, from as many as four farms. The digester is a cooperative venture of the local farmers, Formso Landfill, FWWPERRY, LLC and ECOTS. The digester will process only part of the manure resources available from each farm initially, eventually expanding to handle the total manure volumes of the farms.
A community digester is a concept that has proven successful throughout much of Europe. It builds on the farmers’ collaborative experience with similar cooperative businesses to diversify the risk and investment in a digester facility. Through collaboration, it is possible to build a facility large enough to support a professional staff and to generate adequate electricity to sell to the grid, and/or to use for economic development. Additionally, the by-products of fertilizer and heat become a commodity that can help support the facility’s operation.
The community digester allows the farmers to concentrate on their primary business -farming – eliminating the distraction of digester/bioenergy facility operations. It also provides opportunities for small farms to be a participant.
A community digester is more than a digester; it is a bioenergy business that creates local employment and economic development opportunities for the community (Figure 2). Recognizing this and other potential for community digesters/bioenergy enterprises, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have all made financial incentives available to the Perry project.
NYSERDA awarded the Perry project funds for the initial feasibility study and $1 million in construction grants. USDA has awarded up to $500,000 in construction funds. The IRS recently approved the project for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS) of $2.5 million. CREBS are tax-free bonds that provide an incentive comparable to the Production Tax Credit for renewable energy projects developed by private developers.
David Smithgall, owner of Old Acres Farm, states: “I have been involved with the project since the beginning. I believe it provides local farmers with an opportunity to better our operations, the community and the environment. The Bioenergy facility will not only reduce odor, control pests and other vermin, but will help eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil – all while helping the farmers be more successful. It is a win-win situation that other farmers and communities need to investigate.”
ECOTS is currently finalizing the permits for the facility and anticipates construction will begin in the fall of 2007. Manure contracts with each farm have been executed, and engineering is being finalized. The company’s technology also will be used in a digester project in Cayuga County, New York, being developed by the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District (see “Cayuga County, New York Pioneers Community Digesters Program,” April 2007).
The bioenergy facility will produce approximately 625 kW of renewable electricity, all being sold to the grid. The facility will also produce 2.3 mmBTU/hour of heat, a portion of which will be used in the digester and the remainder will be available for nearby economic development projects.
Liquid and solid by-products will be sold by the cooperative to participants and others in the area. The solid by-products can be used as a soil amendment or animal bedding. Recent studies on the use of the solids for animal bedding have indicated that the material is superior to current bedding materials such as straw, paper or sand.
Approximately 50 percent of the liquid by-products will be returned to the participating farmers for application on cropland. Liquid by-products will replace the current manure being used with a much higher quality fertilizer – one that has more mineralized nitrogen for easier plant uptake and less phosphorus. The remaining liquids will be sold to nearby farms, displacing the use of chemical fertilizers on these croplands.
“Community benefits are many,” reports Kamyar Zadeh, ECOTS Vice President of Technology Development and Transfer. “The entire bioenergy process is fully enclosed, which starts at the farm where cooperative tanker trucks pump the manure sludge into enclosed tanks and move it to the facility. The tankers are then unloaded in a completely enclosed, environmentally monitored building eliminating potential for spills and odor release. From the unloading facility, manure is processed in various vessels and the digester, eventually exiting into storage vessels for the liquids and a building for the solids. The application of the fertilizer by-products on nearby land will be almost odor-free and liquid fertilizer can be applied at anytime that a farmer can get on the cropland.”
The Perry project will be the first in the nation to be developed by a cooperative exclusively created for a bioenergy facility. It is pioneering a number of new ideas and will be a self-sustaining business that provides jobs and opportunities to the local economy.
Bill Cetti is President and CEO of ECO Technology Solutions, LLC in Leesburg, Virginia, a company that specializes in the development, implementation and deployment of new energy and energy-related technologies that focus on energy conservation and distributed generation.

Sign up