Crawford Co. dairy farm: Manure in, electricity out

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SALEM, Ohio – In addition to milk, a Crawford County, Pa., dairy farm will soon be offering another product for sale: electricity.
The Bortnick dairy, off Palmer Road in Conneautville, is in the final planning and permitting stages of its project to install a anaerobic manure digester, according to Penn State Extension agricultural engineer Tom Wilson.
No one from the Bortnick Dairy was available for comment.
Coming soon. In November 2007, Don and Jack Bortnick received a $600,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Energy Harvest program for the digester, according to agency spokesman Charlie Young.
Records show they also received a $357,000 USDA Rural Development grant to fund the project.
The rest of the money to complete the project, estimated at $1.2 million at the outset, will come from the Bortnicks’ own pocketbook, Wilson said.
Wilson has been involved in the project for two years, and acts as an overseer of the Energy Harvest grant money.
Wilson said the farm currently has around 1,300 cows, but the planned digester is oversized to allow capacity to process manure from 1,800 cows. An added option is to process waste from a nearby dog food mill in the digester, he said.
How it works. Wilson said the plug flow digester would operate with a 21- to 28-day holding cycle. The dairy’s manure would be stored in the digester for up to 28 days, where up to half of the volatile solids would be broken down by bacteria. Carbon in the waste would turn to methane gas.
That methane gas would rise, be caught in a cover and then get pumped to an engine generator that would make electricity.
“It’s the same concept as a diesel engine, but the fuel is methane,” Wilson said.
Waste heat from the process could be used in the dairy’s barns, the DEP said, and neighbors can look forward to fewer odors from the manure.
More than enough. The DEP grant application says the Bortnicks’ anaerobic digester would produce roughly 248,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month from 1,800 cows, Charlie Young said.
At that rate, the farm has the potential to generate roughly 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year – figured to be enough to power the farm and rake in more than $100,000 by selling excess back to the grid, according to Young.
“It saves them money and keeps them in the business and allows them to grow, too,” Tom Wilson said.
“The whole point [of the Energy Harvest program] is to reduce reliance on coal and fossil fuels, and to improve or increase renewable energy in Pennsylvania. Biogas from manure is just one source,” Wilson said.
More revenue. Charlie Young said the farm could also have a revenue stream in selling carbon offset credits. The carbon credit program is a voluntary nationwide initiative that allows large carbon-producing industry to ‘buy’ offset credits from farms and greenspace owners in an effort to control emissions and climate change.
“They could really sell those and use the money to pay down costs on the farm, making them even more competitive,” Young said.
About the program. Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s leaders in using the digester technology, according to the DEP.
There are 12 Pennsylvania farms already using anaerobic digesters and eight more under construction, Charlie Young said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell launched the Energy Harvest program in 2003 to promote awareness and build markets for cleaner or renewable energy technologies. Including the projects approved in November 2007, Energy Harvest has invested almost $26 million and leveraged $66 million in private investments in Pennsylvania.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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