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Manure to Methane to Power

March 13th, 2006

I bought them to shoot commercial fishing in Alaska. They’re the same kind of boots I wore for my first job mucking out stalls at 13; knee high and rubber, you can wade through fish guts, manure, mud, whatever you don’t want soiling your socks. But somewhere along the way I misplaced them. So I found myself gingerly stepping through pools of excrement and cozying up with very large, very drooly dairy cows.

The last time I was at a dairy farm I was in elementary school; we took the Carnation Dairy Research Farm tour–I did grow up in what was once rural Washington. Besides being a stone’s throw from the Canadian border (literally) the Vander Haak farm just north of Lynden, Washington, is also the state’s first dairy farm to install a commercial anaerobic digester. (A what?)

An Anaerobic Digester. With heat and bacteria, feed stock (the manure) is turned into methane, compost, and liquid fertilizer. At Vander Haak that means manure from 1500 cows from three farms is ‘digested’ in a covered lagoon; the solids become sterile compost and bedding; the liquid is rich in phosphorous and nitrogen, ideal for fertilizer; and the methane produced is burned in a massive generator to make 300 kw of power (15 kw is used for the system). The resultant 285 kw are sold as ‘green’ power and is enough to power 180 average homes.

Not to sound like an advocate but…it was pretty cool. But ask me again when I take my manure coated shoes out of their bag.

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