BIOFerm™ Energy Systems Offers Dairy Producers Cutting Edge Digestion Biogas Technology
Each year dairy producers from around the globe head to the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI, because as the Expo website says, it, “is where the dairy industry meets and is a showcase for elite dairy cattle, cutting edge research and modern technologies.”
As producers peruse the Expo during the week of October 1-5 they will be looking for ways to improve their business and increase their profits. BIOFerm™ Energy Systems (Dairy Expo booth Arena Building 423) offers dairy producers just that by providing digester technology which takes care of a huge problem on the farm: what to do with the manure and organic waste. BIOFerm™ (http://www.biofermenergy.com), which was founded in Madison, WI in 2007, delivers technology that produces high-quality biogas through specialized industrial-scale processes. These systems provide a valuable set of advantages for the client including carbon neutral energy production, system reliability, waste volume reduction, system simplicity, fully automated management control systems and energy expenditure savings.
BIOFerm™ Energy Systems belongs to the family-owned Viessmann Group which was founded in 1917 and is based in Allendorf, Germany. According to Steven Sell, Biologist and Application Engineer for BIOFerm™, the Viessmann Group has an annual international sales volume of 2.5 billion dollars and employs over 10,000 people worldwide. BIOFerm™ has been the provider of anaerobic digestion (AD) systems by Schmack Biogas GmbH, another member of the Viessmann Group, for the US market since 2010. The companies have built a combined total of over 280 dry and wet fermentation biogas plants in Germany, Europe, Japan and the United States.
“The digestion process itself is millions of years old, and European countries have been using forms of digestion systems to re-use waste products and turn them into usable energy for a long time. Only in the last 20-30 years have digesters been designed to transform waste products into usable energy on a large scale, and it’s only been in the past few years that this technology has begun to take off in the United States,” says Sell.
Sell notes that interest in the United States has greatly increased since 2007. “BIOFerm™ now has satisfied clients across the country from California to New Jersey, but the most activity has taken place in Wisconsin, where BIOFerm™ worked with the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh (UWO) to place the first industrial-scale dry fermentation anaerobic digestion plant in the country.” The university has actually partnered with BIOFerm™ ; the school facility not only reaps the benefits of the biodigester, but a research laboratory known as the Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) has been built for students and faculty users as well through a joint venture. Ongoing research shows that their dry digester system can handle up to 8,000 tons of organic material per year with the potential of supplying as much as 15 percent of the university’s electrical needs.
UWO Foundation President, Arthur Rathjen, applauds the effort of all of those involved. “BIOFerm™ Energy Systems is a stellar partner and source of knowledge and innovation for UW Oshkosh and the state of Wisconsin. This company’s vision and expertise are truly driving renewable energy solutions. We are particularly proud of how collaborative the company’s representatives have been with our College of Letters and Science students and faculty. BIOFerm™ has helped put these current and future scientists into ‘the driver’s seat,’ giving them the opportunity to operate biodigesters as the high-powered scientific instruments they are. That provides our students an education like no other. Both BIOFerm™ and its parent company, Viessmann Group, have demonstrated the kind of on-the-ground support and investment in higher education that is mutually-beneficial to all partners involved.”
In addition, UWO’s commitment is opening up avenues in the farming community. Rathjen elaborates, “Beyond producing sustainable energy for farm operations, our digesters will serve as model solutions to keep farming vibrant in Wisconsin’s future. Our vision is that not only will these power plants help family and larger-scale farms remain ecologically responsible and economically viable, they will also provide Wisconsin’s young people – the youth growing up in small communities that dot our state’s landscape – an opportunity to pursue close-to-home educations and careers as next-generation energy scientists. They’ll be able to keep their talent and investment in rural Wisconsin, and that’s good for everyone. So, digesters serve as a catalyst for a quality of life, one that will preserve and strengthens our rural, farming heritage and legacy.”
Dairy farm case studies
All dairy farms have manure and other waste products. To use these waste products in a beneficial way is now a no-brainer, so to speak, but how? Is it feasible? Is it cost effective? Just how does this fit into the dairy farm operation? After all, you have small producers with 100 cows and producers with several thousand cows. According to Sell, the digester products are designed and the plants tailored to meet each individual dairy’s criteria and needs. Two dairy facilities, one small and one the largest in Wisconsin, have come on board with the anaerobic digester concept near Oshkosh, WI. The first is Allen Farms, a fourth generation family farm with 136 head of dairy cows owned by Dave Allen. The other is Rosendale Dairy, owned by three multi-generation Wisconsin dairy farmers. It is Wisconsin’s largest dairy farm with over 8,000 head of dairy cows.
Both ventures are a partnership among BIOFerm™, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Foundation and the dairy farms. For both farms, Sell says BIOFerm™ provided the project conception, the technology, feasibility analysis, construction of the system, and will provide a performance guarantee. For the UWO, these two facilities become off-campus laboratories for the school’s faculty and student scientists as they serve as field advisors and researchers. A public education center is being constructed at the Rosendale site and will be operated by UW Oshkosh students and faculty. Wisconsin K-12 students, educators and residents will be able to witness the environmental science and engineering involved in harnessing a renewable energy source.
Let’s take a closer look at each facility and how the process worked for them.
The Allen Farms digester system is a $1.2 million investment, but a portion of the cost has been offset by two grants of $125,000, each through the state of Wisconsin. Grants and incentive programs for the system are available on a state-by-state basis, and this initial investment cost is expected to decrease. For Dave Allen, the entire process from the first thought of a digester through the implementation stage and completion has been a good experience. He says, “I was originally approached by UW Oshkosh and BIOFerm™ as a feedstock provider for the first-of-its-kind commercial–scale dry fermentation biodigester located on site at UW Oshkosh. Our partnership as a feedstock provider and our son Rush’s involvement with the campus digester sparked interest in the EUCOlino – a compact containerized digester designed for small farms.”
So, Allen began researching the feasibility of a digester on the Allen Farms. “After learning more about the compact digester, completing a feasibility study, and receiving support from Focus on Energy and the Wisconsin State Energy Office, it was an easy move forward with installing a digester on our farm and becoming a partner with BIOFerm™ and UW Oshkosh.”
Of course, there are always concerns. Allen was apprehensive if the system would add value to the farm, but the concern has been alleviated says Allen. “The simplicity and flexibility allows this system to be placed into already established operations. It will utilize organic waste from the farm, which includes approximately 2,000 tons of bedding material and manure per year. In addition to the solid feedstock, the digester will be fed with wash water from our milking parlor.”
Let’s talk financial benefits. Allen says that the digester is helping meet electrical needs. “The facility is expected to produce 55kW of electrical power which will provide enough power for the farm and may provide an opportunity for a power purchase agreement with our electric company. We are hoping to utilize the thermal output generated by the combined heat and power unit to heat farm buildings.”
Finally, Allen says, it has become a win-win situation for the Allen Farms. “I’m taking the manure I already have, making energy, and the greenhouse gas, methane, isn’t being released into the atmosphere like it would have. All the feedback I’ve received from neighbors and the community has been extremely positive. I’m hoping other farmers invest in this technology to become completely self-sufficient when it comes to meeting their heating and electrical needs. A digester can heat their houses, shops, and water, power their operations, dry their grains, and create fertilizer. There really is an endless list of advantages. ”
Throughout the entire process, Allen says that BIOFerm™ representatives have been terrific and very good to work with. To see a video clip of Allen discussing the system, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLOMF39Vz1k .
For this massive dairy farm, the digester system means a $7 million capital investment. However, preliminary data shows that the system is expected to produce 1.4 megawatts of electric power, or enough energy to power 1,200 homes. Sale of the energy back to the grid will create significant carbon credits for UWO in its quest to be a truly “green” environmental leader.
According to Jim Ostrom, one of the co-founders and partners in Rosendale Dairy, the dairy had been looking for the right group to build and run a digester for the farm. Once the digester is fully installed, the farm’s waste products will both generate energy and intensify even more the sustainability of the farm.
Ostrom sees the digester system providing many sustainability options. He notes that historically dairy farming is one of the best forms of recycling and sustainability around and points to the reuse of water on dairy farms. “It is used several times on dairy farms before much of it returns to the ground in the spreading process as irrigation – nutrients included. When you add in the ability to use the manure to gather green energy even before it is returned to the soil, it is another major benefit. In addition, any odor will be lessened through the digester process.”
Although not yet completed, Ostrom believes the effort to be worth the time and cost. “We are quite happy to see the results of a long road and look forward to seeing our product help in the creation of green energy by the end of 2013.”
At the same time, he says working with BIOFerm™ has been a positive experience. “BIOFerm™ has been extremely professional in any dealings it has had with the dairy and has made itself available to dairy personnel, local government and interested parties with candid openness.”
Is it for me?
That’s the question dairy producers are asking. Sell assures producers that digester systems are not a one size fits all. From the beginning research to the end product, BIOFerm™ makes the commitment to tailor the digester system to meet the needs of each individual dairy. BIOFerm™ has four types of anaerobic digestion systems to meet the needs of its clients. From the initial research to post-construction monitoring, BIOFerm™ offers a complete range of services:
Feedstock characterization and testing
Plant design and construction
Start-up, commissioning, and training services
Remote plant monitoring
After sales support
BIOFerm™ offers a performance guarantee based on terms of the agreement, which really protects the client, Sell says. “What it does is guarantee that the system will operate to the capacity that all of the studies and projections show. If it falls short, BIOFerm™ will cover the cost of the difference or provide the technical support to get the system running to the agreed upon level.”
So, is an anaerobic digestion biogas system for you? The only way to find out is to visit with a representative and have a cost-free feasibility study taken. While you’re at the World Expo Dairy, stop in at BIOFerm™ Energy Systems (booth AR423) to learn more. According to Whitney Beadle, Marketing and Public Relations, a tour of the Allen Farms near Oshkosh will be held the week of the World Dairy Expo. “We’re excited to showcase our technology in action at the World Dairy Expo, and are offering limited free tours of our Allen Farms digester on Friday, October 4th. Space is limited, so please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org to get qualified.”