GVSU Opens Experimental Dairy Farm Power Plant

February 1, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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RAVENNA — A new $2.7 million biogas energy plant was fired up for VIPs earlier this month at the den Dulk dairy farm, built in partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon and Reynolds Inc. of Orleans, Ind., using equipment supplied by Entec Biogas GmbH of Austria.

Den Dulk is one of the largest dairies in Michigan. The biodigester converts thousands of gallons of cow manure produced at the farm every day into methane gas, which is burned in a micro-turbine to generate electricity and thermal energy. The biodigester plant is expected to generate 50 percent to 60 percent of the farm's energy needs.

Construction on the biogas plant began last spring; it was built with the help of a $1 million Michigan Public Service commission grant. It is a demonstration of the potential for renewable energy sources, rather than continued dependence on limited supplies of fossil fuels that continue to increase in price and often entail environmental pollution.

According to MAREC Executive Director Imad Mahawili, untreated cow manure used as fertilizer emits methane into the atmosphere with 23 times the negative impact of carbon dioxide.

The general contractor on the Ravenna project, Reynolds Inc., is partnering with the Austrian firm Entec Biogas GmbH, which developed the technology for the biodigester plant. The companies launched a new division this month that hopes to build more biogas plants in the U.S. That division is based in an office in MAREC.

Sarah Lineberry, MAREC’s biomass project manager, has joined Reynolds to head up this new division.

 “Each of these companies has a vested interest in the U.S. market,” Lineberry said. “Entec has had great success with this technology around the world, and there’s great potential for it here. And based on Reynolds’ primary business of wastewater treatment plants and piping, they naturally have the skill set needed to build these plants. Both companies recognize this as a business they can expand upon.”

Reynolds Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Layne Christensen Co., is a $700 million business that designs and builds water and wastewater treatment plants, supply and collector wells, water intakes and transmission lines. Entec Biogas GmbH is a private company located in Fussach, Austria. It offers design, construction and assistance in operation of biogas plants worldwide and has plants operating in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, India, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

“We are extremely excited about this new partnership and the potential opportunities we believe exist in the U.S. renewable energy sector," said Les Archer, vice president of Reynolds.

“The Ravenna digester plant will serve as a showcase for potential clients,” Lineberry said, noting that it will be useful to be able to show prospective clients a fully operational plant.

The den Dulk biogas plant is 48 feet in diameter and 47 feet tall. Manure from cows is kept in the digester tank at around 98.6 degrees for an average of 21 days. While in the tank, the waste is continuously mixed and broken down by microbes. The main product of the process is biogas, which is comprised of 60 percent methane. That gas will have the hydrogen sulfide removed to reduce its corrosive elements before it is transferred to a holding tank. Then it will be available for use in microturbines or boilers to create electricity and heat.

The plant will also help reduce pollution, which is a regulation issue with large dairy operations. Besides gas, the other product of the process is a material called "digestate," which is nutrient-rich and can be used as a fertilizer. That product has a 95 percent reduction of odor and a 99 percent reduction of pathogens compared to unprocessed manure. The farm is also separating the liquids from the solids. The solid material can be used as bedding in the barns.

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