What do dairy farms generate a lot of? Besides milk, its safe to say what goes into a cow will come back out in the form of manure. One innovative man, Kevin Maas, has created a machine that will allow farmers to turn that mess into energy to run the whole farm, reports The Seattle Times.
Working through environmental regulations, utility contracts and bank-loan requirements was one challenge; persuading farmers to get on board was another.
"Dairy farmers are very nervous about somebody showing up and telling them there's a better way," said Daryl, Farm Power's CEO, who now lives in Redding, Calif.
Maas said he was confident Farm Power could pull it off, but "there were times that were a little scary" â€” like discovering the utility lines to deliver their electricity to Puget Sound Energy would require a six-figure upgrade.
Two adjacent dairy farmers, who milk 1,200 cows south of town in an area called Rexville, agreed to supply the manure. Farm Power's initial project opened in August 2009.
Now a large red generator hums loudly inside a spartan metal building. Bright-yellow pipes feed in methane gas that rises off the digester's sealed outdoor pool of slurried cow manure.
Burning that potent greenhouse gas, Farm Power's Mount Vernon and Lynden generators produce enough electricity for about 1,000 homes. The methane kept out of the atmosphere equals the annual greenhouse-gas emissions of 3,000 cars.
The digesters also yield nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer and pathogen-free fiber â€” straw and such that survived the cows' digestive process â€” that the farmers use for bedding in their dairy barns. The two Mount Vernon farms save about $100,000 a year because they don't need to buy straw or sawdust for cow bedding, Maas said.
"It's just a big old circle. And when it's done right, that circle is very beneficial to us," said Jason Vander Kooy, the 35-year-old farmer whose dairy sits north of the Mount Vernon digester. "We're very happy with it."
Photo from Farm Power