Turning cow dung into electricity
En.parset.com, June 8th
Dairy farmer Ron Koetsiers 1,200 cows produce roughly 90 tons of manure daily, and for the last three decades, he has tried unsuccessfully to turn the stinky dung into energy to power his 450-acre farm in Visalia
He installed a nearly $1-million renewable energy system in 1985 that used the methane from manure to create electricity for his farm. In 2002, he replaced that system with newer technology, but he hit a snag when air-quality standards called for expensive retrofits to reduce air pollution; he eventually shut down the system in 2009.
In a few weeks, however, Koetsiers renewable-energy efforts will get a reboot as a new company replaces his current system with one that is expected to satisfy strict air standards in the highly polluted San Joaquin Valley.
A decade or so ago, dozens of California dairy farmers built million-dollar systems called methane digesters that convert manure into power. Then, unexpected pollution problems, regulatory roadblocks and low rates of return killed most such digester systems, leaving only a handful in operation.
All that could be changing as renewable energy companies develop new ways of running digesters to boost profits. They’re improving technology to meet tough smog-control rules. At the same time, the state is trying out a streamlined permitting process to help remove costly regulatory hurdles.
Koetsier will be the first dairy farmer to install a digester under the state’s program. He said he is optimistic that this go-around — his third attempt to make a system work — will finally pay off. After hearing of the technological and other advances, he decided to give it another whirl, Koetsier said.
State officials are pushing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that is causing utilities to pursue more renewable energy sources. Experts say digesters show particular promise in California, the top dairy producing state with 1.8 million cows.