April 21, 2004 | General

Latest Trends In Anaerobic Digestion On The West Coast

Richard Mattocks
BioCycle April 2004, Vol. 45, No. 4, p. 69

As with any cutting edge idea, cooling milk with manure was considered unthinkable in the initial stages of development. But that is what we are doing with anaerobic digestion on dairy farms: Biologically treating manure to produce methane rich biogas which in turn is used to fuel engines coupled to generators producing electricity for farm use….including milk chilling.
Trends have developed regarding manure digestion systems on the West Coast. Exploring these several different types of trends suggests a bright future for the technology.
Ever notice how any innovation goes through several well established stages?
1. The idea is unthinkable: who could fathom the idea of chilling milk with a waste.
2. Some unreasonable risks are taken by those foolish enough to try it: they clearly see possibility and they start to produce energy from manure and using the energy.
3. Neighbors feel there is near mysticism involved – an alchemy of manure.
4. Generally, there is denial the idea will ever work: though clearly Leo Langerwerf has been producing electricity and hot water from manure for two decades.
5. As years of success accumulate, success is tolerated, attributing the success to luck: Roy Sharp is just lucky to be producing electricity from covered manure lagoon gas since 1984.
6. The track record becomes undeniable, but still viewed as too risky: digester concrete and cogen steel show years of wear as systems are operated successfully.
7. Confidence develops: bankers even start to consider digestion. Utilities begin to inquire.
8. Champions begin to sell the idea: the government names digestion a “Best Management Practice” and funds installations, not as demonstrations but as installations. Digestion is promoted so green tags are available for our customers.
9. After a spell, the idea becomes commonplace: manure digesters are in wide use throughout Europe, sewage treatment plants commonly include digestion.
10. Finally, it is unthinkable not to implement the idea: from unthinkable to consider manure digestion to unthinkable not to consider installing a digester for all the benefits it affords.
Today, on the West Coast we are between Step 7 and Step 8 in the evolution of acceptance of manure digesters. There is a clear trend toward acceptance. How was this level of acceptance established? Prospective installers or supporters of projects have developed a knowledge base founded on now being able to touch hot steel, smell the impact of digesters on manure odors, and share system operator stories.
Here is the “Take Away Message”: The manure digester industry is in full resurgence, and there is clear movement to build on success. Key to this is that the public has become informed and is more discriminating. System buyers are better informed consumers. There is a wealth of experience now being used by the consuming public.
There also is a trend in implementation emphasis: Over 100 on-farm digesters will be functioning by the end of 2004 in the United States. Large farms are recognizing that a digestion system may be a requirement for permitting their enterprise. And for the smaller farms, there are community manure digester studies everywhere: Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, and throughout the United States.
Big news is the digester grants program for California. Thirty applications were submitted, and 12 have been funded to use $15 million approved for manure digester projects. This has resulted in a large number of manure digester construction projects. Several are in a Spring 2004 start-up.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has set aside funds for two large EQIP projects to demonstrate the environmental benefits of manure digesters. The state of Washington made provisions for a tax exemption for purchases associated with manure digesters.
In California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, there are operating systems, systems in start-up, others in development and initial study stages.
Leo Langerwerf, near Chico, California is running one of the oldest facilities in the U.S., operating constantly since 1982. He has operated close to 94 percent of all the hours he could have operated, processing over 95 percent of the manure his animals produced. In 1999, he did his first system cleanout.
Ron Koetsier, Visalia, California had a bad experience in the 1980s, giving up on his digester after repeatedly trying to start and keep it going. Finally, in 2002, he had the system redesigned, and it has been running with little difficulty since.
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, had an undeniable odor about it when the wind came in from the ocean, which was most days. In 1999, the first cover was installed on the dairy manure lagoon. Though the gas has been largely flared over the years, the environmental impact is undeniable.
Tillamook, Oregon officials began developing the MEAD project in 1989. The system is fully operational, processing the manure from 2,000 cows and producing power for the equivalent of about 250 homes. The Bonneville Power Authority has purchased the “Green Tags” associated with the power generated.
There are other systems which have operated for some period of time, notably the Oregon Cal-Gon system at Bernie Faber’s 400 cow dairy and the Albert Straus dairy on the Coast in Marin County, California. The Chino, California Inland Empire Community digesters receive manure from seven area dairies. One digester was constructed for community manure digestion, and two of the local wastewater anaerobic digesters are adapted for manure.
Castinanelli Dairy, San Joaquin Valley, California milks 2,000 cows and flushes manure. The system is in a Spring 2004 start-up. A similar covered lagoon has been constructed on a Gallo Winery anaerobic lagoon in Livingston, California. Another has been constructed on the Steve Lorenco facility in Central California. Meadow Brook Dairy in the Mojave Desert is actually finishing construction and is filling its 3,000 cow digester now for a Spring 2004 start-up.
Several projects are in development. Several thousand dairy cows are confined at three Boardman, Oregon facilities. A study has been completed in Snohomish County, Washington, another in Whatcom County, and Yakima, Washington areas. All these projects are actively in development, pursuing business plans consistent with the results of technical and financial feasibility studies.
These projects have arrived at their current day status following several well-established steps. One of the very first is to determine whether there is a likelihood their project will be successful. AURI (Agricultural Utilization and Research Institute, Morris, Minnesota) funded the development and writing of two important yet uncomplicated documents to assist prospective system developers in assessing the likelihood their project will be successful. One assists farm owners if they install an individual system; the second assists community leaders to assess project success. A guide to selecting manure digestion system designers has been developed. These documents are accessible on the website:
The trend toward more wide acceptance of digestion systems can be discussed with knowledgeable West Coast individuals at State Energy Offices; Western United Dairymen; Milk Producers Council; Oregon Dairy Farmers Association and the Bonneville Power Authority Foundation.
Don’t underestimate the value of communicating with the producers installing and operating systems. They will help the prospective system installer understand what to look for. The trend toward more system installations will continue as there is more accumulation of success. Only then will it be unthinkable to not to cool milk with cow manure.
Richard Mattocks is founder of Environomics, Inc., based in Riverdale, New York. His website is This trends report is based on his presentation at BioCycle West Coast Conference 2004: “Making Connections to Maximize Success,” in Portland, Oregon on March 15, 2004.

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