At a one-day workshop on methane recovery systems last month, the Methane Recovery Work Group solicited support for a proposed demonstration project to turn manure gases into fuel for generating heat or electricity. The industry steering committee suggested that converting animal-waste methane into energy would reduce odors and emissions at livestock operations.York Nebraska, July 9, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] More than 100 producers, regulators and zoning officials attended the seminar at the Interstate Holiday Inn in York. The work group included utilities, government agencies and agricultural groups interested in maintaining a healthy and sustainable environment. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) helped organize the event as a partnership effort by the two state organizations to improve the quality of life in Nebraska. With livestock a US$10 billion industry in 1999, agriculture remains the state’s top industry. During this workshop, experts shared information on methane recovery technology with producers, agri-businesses and other stakeholders in Nebraska’s agricultural industry. Solving odor issues can help improve the quality of life and the economy in many rural Nebraska counties, said the NPPD. “While reducing odors over 90 percent, this technology can produce heat and electricity, which can benefit the operators of livestock confinement facilities and their neighbors,” said Frank Thompson, of NPPD. Thompson presented a session on the potential financial costs and benefits of generating electricity from waste streams at a confinement operation. “Rural producers are important NPPD customers,” Thompson said. “Keeping the livestock industry healthy and growing, while improving living conditions, is critical for the future of small communities and the entire state.” “Electricity generated from waste is considered ‘green’ or environmentally-friendly power, but is higher in costs,” he said. “Some utility customers are willing to pay premium prices for green energy from alternative generating resources, which can help make green power more cost effective.” The waste-to-energy process begins when manure is dumped into a covered anaerobic digester and heated. The manure decomposes and the gas can be burned in a boiler or small generator. The energy can be used to heat the digester and agricultural buildings, while the electricity can serve farm loads and the surplus power possibly sold to the local utility. “It costs me about $15 per cow per year to capture methane and reduce odors,” said New York dairy operator, Larry Jones, who maintains methane-powered generators on his dairy farm in New York. “With an average cow producing about $3,500 in annual revenues, is the odor-control cost worth it to reduce neighbors’ complaints? You bet!” Ed Lewis, a Colorado environmental official, assessed a successful methane converter at his swine operation that is one of more than 30 digesters currently operating on farms in the nation. A panel, representing zoning boards and the pork industry, discussed the feedlot odor issue, which they said is a major cause of local officials to reject permits for new animal-feeding facilities. “The problem most people complain about is odors,” said Dave Ptac of Norfolk, Nebraska, who is President of the Nebraska Planning and Zoning Association. “This (methane conversion technology) offers an opportunity to build a facility and be a good neighbor.” Nebraska representatives of Congressman Tom Osborne and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson reported that the newly-passed farm bill contains grant money and tax credits for reducing air emissions and greenhouse gases, such as methane. The proposed Energy Bill under consideration is expected to offer incentives for generating electricity from alternative resources like agricultural byproducts. Supporters attending the Methane Recovery Work Group discussed the possibility of applying for grants to set up a methane-conversion project in Nebraska to test the value and effectiveness of the technology.