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07.27.2022

The Benefits of an Anaerobic Digester on Your Dairy Farm

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(Co-authored by Mark Inkrott, co-founder and partner of UpField Group and dairy consultant for EnTech Solutions)

The operational costs of dairy farming are on the rise, making it increasingly more difficult for farmers to remain profitable. Anaerobic digestion is one solution farmers should consider.

The benefits of adding a biodigester to your dairy farm go far beyond serving as an effective way to manage animal and plant waste. In fact, anaerobic digestion can help:

  • Diversify your income stream
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Eliminate watershed contamination
  • Lower operational costs

In short, an anaerobic digester provides a variety of solutions for your farm and the environment.

Why Implement an Anaerobic Digester?

The traditional approach to managing manure on a dairy farm involves spreading it on fields as fertilizer. In theory, recycling a plentiful renewable resource and minimizing the need for additional soil amendments is a great idea.

Unfortunately, the traditional approach can also come with unintended and unwanted side effects. Neighbors might complain about the smell, and rainwater runoff could carry some of the manure or fertilized soil to community water sources, creating watershed issues. And if you live in an area where the ground freezes, then you need a way to manage manure during cold weather months.

In contrast, anaerobic digestion uses a sealed, oxygen-free tank for microorganisms to consume animal and plant waste. This process creates a range of byproducts, including soil amendments and energy. You get all the positives of recycling manure without having to manage the downsides.

Learn more about how anaerobic digester technology is working in Middleton, WI, in our recent video.

Let’s explore some benefits of anaerobic digestion for your farm and the environment:

  • Create your own source of fertilizer. The process of anaerobic digestion creates nutrient byproducts and soil amendments that can replace the direct spread of manure on your fields and minimize or eliminate the need for additional fertilizer.
  • Avoid watershed problems and EPA fines. A water filtration system attached to a biodigester removes phosphorous and other harmful particulates, so water is safe for runoff, irrigation or farm maintenance.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Anaerobic digestion captures the methane gas emitted as manure is broken down by microorganisms to use as the foundation for producing either electricity or renewable natural gas (RNG).
  • Enjoy lower energy costs and more energy independence. A microgrid that uses Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) such as solar, wind or hydro along with battery storage not only provides the power required to operate your digester but can also subsidize the energy used to power farm operations. This can be especially important in regions where weather can cause temporary outages, brownouts or rolling blackouts.
  • Improve public perception about the dairy industry’s role in global warming. Biodigesters provide a way for local farmers to serve society with a solution that goes beyond their fence line.

The most challenging obstacle to implementing an anaerobic digester is often the initial capital investment. However, there are a variety of grant programs and government incentives available to help offset the cost. The experts at EnTech Solutions research and recommend applicable programs as part of our full-solution project approach.

In addition, the greatest advantage of an anaerobic digester, is that it helps pay for itself thanks to its ability to generate multiple sources of income.

Diversify Your Dairy Farm Income

When it comes to waste management on a dairy, one of the main advantages of incorporating a biodigester is the opportunity to add additional income streams to your core products.

There are several ways to generate and diversify a dairy farm’s income with the outputs produced from an anaerobic digester that include:

  • Selling solid byproducts. The process of anaerobic digestion generates a variety of solid byproducts, including livestock bedding, fertilizer, and the raw material to manufacture renewable construction fiberboard and engineered wood/plastic composite.
  • Generating energy for on-farm use or sale to the grid. There are two types of energy most commonly produced from an anaerobic digester: electricity and RNG. When generating electricity, an EnTech Solutions solar microgrid and battery storage combination generates energy that powers the dairy and can be stored for use for on-farm operations. The biodigester can also be constructed to capture the heat emitted from the process for use on the farm. Any surplus of electricity not used for the farm’s operation can often be sold back to your local utility.
  • Generating RNG. The other option for producing energy—often more profitable—is to capture the methane offput during the digestion process and manufacture RNG. RNG becomes significantly more valuable when created using a carbon neutral or carbon negative process like anaerobic digestion and microgrid combination, which makes the EnTech Solutions approach to anaerobic digestion increasingly more attractive to dairy producers. After RNG is produced in the cleanest possible way, it gets injected into the existing pipeline infrastructure and sold for the most competitive price for national distribution.

EnTech Solutions uses a proven process for building and converting anaerobic digesters on dairy farms to produce and sell RNG. We can help you understand the scope, cost and timeline of the project, along with potential return on investment. We provide what you need to make an informed decision about whether putting a biodigester on your dairy farm can help add stability and longevity for future operations.

If you have questions about adding an anaerobic digester to your farm, reach out to us today.