Cow manure, potato scraps to power farm, homes – Telegraph Journal reports

By Paola Loriggio, Telegraph Journal | Link to original article

That’s what first led the farmer, who owns some 200 head of cattle on a farm in St. André just north of Grand Falls, to consider turning manure and potato scraps into electricity.

The scraps would come from the McCain Foods plant in Grand Falls, which currently trucks them to a landfill.

The manure, obviously, would come from the cows – from Laforge Holstein Ltd. and, eventually, other dairy farmers.

The result is a unique project – the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada – and a prototype for small-scale green energy projects that could eventually span the province.

Once complete, the facility, dubbed Laforge Bioenvironmental Inc., will produce 2.5 million kilowatt-hours of low-carbon electricity each year, enough to power the farm and another 200 homes, Laforge said.

The system will also create liquid fertilizer to cover roughly 8,000 acres of land, he said.

“We could see a whole new industry” of farm-based electricity generation, said Calvin Milbury, president and CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, which will today announce it is investing $400,000 in the project.

“It could lead to substantial economic impact for the province,”

Milbury said, at a time when New Brunswick’s economy appears increasingly tied to its energy strategy.

The funding will be earmarked for research to analyze and increase the system’s performance.

The research will be conducted on site and at the New Brunswick Community College’s satellite campus in Grand Falls.

The $2.35-million project also received nearly $904,000 from the New Brunswick Climate Action Fund.

It is considered part of the provincial government’s action plan for self-sufficiency in Northern New Brunswick.

For Laforge and his son Rock, who are equal partners in the venture, the project will create several new streams of income.

They intend to sell the surplus electricity to NB Power and the fertilizer to local farmers, Laforge said. What’s more, they’ll be collecting fees from McCain and any others dropping off organic waste, he said.

That amounts to about $500,000 annually in additional revenue, he said. “This is better than the dairy business.”

The system comprises four components, each housed in a separatebuilding: a receiving and mixing tank, a digester, a generator and a lagoon.

The magic happens in the digester, “which is like a big stomach,”

Laforge said. Microbes eat the waste and produce gas, which flows underground to an engine that turns the generator. The generator produces electricity.

The whole process is smell-free, Laforge said.

The liquid left behind by the microbes is made of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and other minerals – the elements of a good fertilizer, says Kevin Shiell, lead researcher for the college study.

Shiell will monitor and analyze the system to identify the conditions that produce the best results.

“The microbes that do the conversion are living things,” he said. “If it’s too hot or too cold, they don’t perform as well.”

“You have to keep them happy.”

The combination of manure and food processing waste is what makes it tricky, because the contents and quantities of the latter may vary, he said.

But as Shiell and his team – a technician and a changing roster of college students – study the particularities of the mix, they will be able to advise others who wish to replicate the project, the researcher said.

Shiell said he imagines the same principles could apply to wet municipal waste.

As for Laforge, he already has his next project in mind: a small ethanol plant, heated with biogas from the system. Any waste corn would go to the cows, he said, thus feeding the cycle anew.

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