Texas plant uses dairy waste to make
Nov 5, 2007 - Angela Brown - The
The nation's largest manure-to-natural
gas plant got up and running Monday in the heart of
Texas dairy country, a project expected to produce
enough energy to power 11,000 homes a year.
In a high-profile example of the growing
need for alternative energy, Huckabay Ridge gets manure
from local dairy farms, processes it with grease and
other restaurant waste, purifies it and turns it into
"The beauty is that you take the waste
products and you create a useful form of energy,"
said Richard Kessel, president and CEO of Portsmouth,
N.H.-based Environmental Power Corp. Its wholly owned
subsidiary, Microgy Inc., owns the facility. "We look
at these as non-depleting gas wells with a long-term
supply of renewable energy."
The Lower Colorado River Authority buys
the gas and uses it to power homes in Central Texas,
officials said. Next fall, San Francisco-based Pacific
Gas & Electric Co. will buy natural gas from Huckabay
Ridge, which will generate the energy equivalent of
4.6 million gallons of oil annually.
"This is a turning point in agriculture.
... Agriculture is no longer just food and fiber;
it is now food and fiber and fuel," state Rep. Sid
Miller, R-Stephenville, said Monday at the plant's
opening ceremony, where only a faint odor of manure
wafted through the air. "Agriculture is going to responsible
for producing a large percent of the world's fuel."
Huckabay Ridge is near Stephenville
in rural Erath County, the state's top-producing dairy
county. The state has about 335,000 dairy cows, including
52,000 in Erath County. Each dairy cow produces more
than 15 gallons of manure per day.
The site had been a composting facility
where farmers took manure. Now, more than a dozen
farmers take their herds' waste there, paying only
for transportation. The facility does not buy the
manure or charge farmers to drop it off.
"It's a great thing for everybody,"
said John Traweek, whose family-run Jam Dot Dairy
has been operating in nearby Lingleville for 45 years.
He said it was a much-needed benefit
for Erath County dairies, which have come under fire
for manure runoff in the Bosque River. It is the main
water source of Lake Waco downstream, where an overabundance
of phosphorus caused massive algae blooms that were
blamed for tainting Waco water's taste and odor.
Last year Waco dropped its federal lawsuits
against six of the 14 dairies it sued in 2004 in exchange
for farmers' changes designed to reduce water pollution.
Waco previously reached settlements with eight dairies.
"I think the dairymen are excited about
the opportunity this facility does provide, but this
type of technology might not be the solution for every
dairyman," said John Cowan, executive director of
the Texas Association of Dairymen.
Each day, about 10 manure-filled trucks
arrive at the Huckabay Ridge, driving up a ramp made
of dried, dark manure. The loads are dropped into
a small tank where water is added, and then into a
1 million-gallon drum called a slurry tank, where
the liquified waste swirls around.
The manure and restaurant grease then
go into one of eight 900,000-gallon digester tanks,
where bacteria feed on the waste for weeks to create
methane gas. After purifying it to commercial standards,
the natural gas is then distributed through a pipeline.
Officials said Texas has been a leader
in agriculture and energy.
"Today these two sectors of our economy
join together for something very special," said Texas
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. "Today is a
real winning solution for agriculture, for our environment,
for our state's economy and for new sources of energy."
Environmental Power has started similar
projects in California and a few other states. It
also has three digesters on small family-owned Wisconsin
dairy farms that produce enough electricity for about