California dairy farm has a microgrid that runs on clean electricity made from methane from cowsheds

It has proven its value as a fertilizer and building material, and even as a Secret ingredient in ancient Egyptian ceramics. Turns out, cow dung — yes, that stinky manure that also produces greenhouse gas methane — could have a bright future as an abundant source of clean electricity, too.

Few places capture this potential future better than Bar 20 Dairy, a dairy farm in Kerman, California, that uses methane from cow manure to produce clean electricity with near-zero carbon emissions. . It’s the first dairy farm in the U.S. to self-powered cleanly on a biogas “microgrid,” and it could be a tantalizing sign of what the future of green energy might look like for businesses. the company has access to a lot of methane.

Technology is not difficult to grasp. Manure and wastewater from the farm’s nearly 7,000 cows are transported and screened into a 25-million-gallon rectangular pit in the ground known as a digester. The liquid sits for about 30 days while the methane rises to the top of the closed digester. The gas is then directed into a sliding transducer, which separates the methane from hydrogen sulfide and other impurities. Finally, the methane is fed into fuel cells that harness it to produce electricity with little or no greenhouse gas emissions.

N. Ross Buckenham, CEO of California Bioenergy, a company that operates and builds manure digesters — including the one used by Bar 20 Dairy.

Generating electricity from cow dung (or other forms of agricultural waste such as pig manure) is not an entirely new concept. For at least 15 years now, dairy farms from Vermont to Wisconsin have been participating in this category small-scale bioenergy production, generating enough electricity to power several hundred homes, and certainly more than enough to keep a large farm running.

The problem is that most of these places use internal combustion engines to run the processes that actually generate electricity. The green benefits that come from finding new uses for waste have essentially been wiped out by the greenhouse gases these engines pump into the air.

This is where fuel cells help, as they don’t emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct when running methane-to-electricity reactions. Bar 20 Dairy uses solid oxide fuel cells made by the San Jose-based company Blooming energy. They consist of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte sandwiched between two interconnected plates. As methane flows through the anode side and air passes through the cathode side, it causes a chemical reaction in the electrons that generates electricity, with practically zero carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

Bloom Energy’s fuel cell system at Bar 20 Dairy. Along with the farm’s solar arrays, the one megawatt system provides enough electricity to power all of the dairy farm’s needs.

Blooming energy

The result is a clean, self-sustaining energy microgrid: something Steve Sheheady of Bar 20 Dairy and his family have been trying to establish for years.

Bar 20 Dairy’s grandfather, Sheheady, told The Daily Beast that the farm’s microgrid (powered by solar panel arrays) is performing better than expected. The fuel cell system, which began operating in October, is expected to produce about 8.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, equivalent to powering more than 750 homes, according to Bloom. Right now, the farm is essentially generating more energy than it can use. Excess electricity is fed back into the grid by local utility companies and used to charge electric cars, according to Sheheady.

“We used to joke about how funny it would be if we could make more money from manure than milk,” says Sheheady. “And now here we are basically.”

Farms, private companies, healthcare facilities and university campuses are all spending millions to join the microgrid movement, attracted by the prospect of reducing energy costs and relying less on energy costs. local utilities (which already face chronic blackouts due to natural disasters and aging infrastructure). And it’s a worldwide phenomenon: Market intelligence firm Guidehouse Insights estimates that spending on microgrid technology and equipment will hit 110.5 billion dollars globally by 2030. In the United States, microgrids are particularly significant for groups operating in states such as California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York, where electricity is available. rate has skyrocketed.

And of course, the slow movement of world governments to combat climate change means that private parties are willing to go ahead on their own in search of clean and sustainable sources of energy.

“That’s where Silicon Valley meets Central Valley.”

– N. Ross Buckenham

This is especially true in California, which has spurred industries like agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since 2006. Although carbon dioxide emissions are getting attention, methane is 80 times worse for global warming over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide. About 40 percent of all methane emissions from the agricultural sector.

Bloom’s fuel cell installations, which have been acquired by Home Depot, Morgan Stanley and Caltech, run largely on natural gas, which burns relatively cleanly but still emits lots of greenhouse gases. The company is excited to see its technology used in a clean energy project like Bar 20 Dairy’s. Sharelynn Moore, Bloom’s executive vice president, told The Daily Beast that the company also recently started operating a microgrid project for a Silicon Valley company that is taking methane from a landfill. trash nearby. It is also in talks with a number of waste and water management companies to extract methane from their treatment facilities to turn into electricity.

“We’re on the cusp of really changing the way energy is distributed,” says Moore. As more states mandate green electricity from renewables like solar, wind and hydro, Moore hopes the company’s fuel cell servers can help close the loop.

Bar 20 Dairy in Kerman, California owns about 7,000 cows. Methane from cow dung is used to power fuel cells, producing clean electricity.

Dairy Cares

However, as with many solutions to combat climate change, the high cost will prevent many people from participating in projects of this type. Bar 20 Dairy spent about $12.5 million on its fuel cell system and digester. Sheheady said he received a $3 million grant from the state of California and has applied for a $2.4 million reimbursement. The rest is a bank loan. It helps to make Sheheady’s dairy farm large, as not all farms necessarily have access to the same avenues to raise that kind of capital.

But with the initial success of Bar 20 Dairy’s fuel cell system, there are several other dairy firms in California interested in developing their own clean energy microgrid. California Biogas has received information from a number of facilities seeking to build the necessary infrastructure and independently control their electricity needs.

“If you are going to continue in the dairy business, you will not be able to succeed with just trading cows because the costs are very high,” says Sheheady. “We can save milk this way.”

Talk about milking cows for all its merits. California dairy farm has a microgrid that runs on clean electricity made from methane from cowsheds


ClareFora is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. ClareFora joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

Related Articles

Back to top button