Power of poop: N.S. dairy farmers turn cow manure into energy
Two dairy farmers in Shubenacadie, N.S. are producing more than just milk.
Derek Mostert and Richard Metcalfe are harnessing the power of cow poop. They run the only biogas dairy farm in the Maritimes - putting the farmers on the front end of a back-end product.
“We have about 350 cattle altogether and produce probably 30 tonnes of waste a day,” says farm owner Derek Mostert.
Every hour, cows from Windmill Holsteins produce 500 kilowatts of electricity, all from their waste.
“When we first started doing this we were told it couldn’t be done,” says biogas co-ordinator Richard Metcalfe. “I think people were afraid to be the first one.”
Mostert first got the idea of a biogas plant after his parents, who are also farmers, went on a trip to India and saw how the waste of cows there could heat water.
“I figured if they could do that with six cows and so little technology, what can be done here in North America with all the potential we have here,” says Mostert.
Mostert decided to team up with Metcalfe, who spent the next nine months researching biogas technology.
“So he said, ‘find me a biogas company that you think is worthwhile and we’ll build biogas,” says Metcalfe.
It took two years of paperwork, one year of construction, and $3 million to build their biogas plant.
“This will increase the efficiency of our farm dramatically…we have no waste anymore,” says Mostert.
Biogas is methane produced from manure. The technology of the biogas plant was perfected in Germany where, for years, they have capitalized on methane-rich dung. But using cow waste to produce energy has never before been successful in the Maritimes before.
“A lot of the trouble is, people have tried to build their own, and I said to Derek, ‘what’s the point? Reinvent the wheel, when in Germany they’ve already perfected it,’” says Metcalfe.
This process works like this; a machine scrapes the cow droppings six times a day and transfers it into a tank. The tank heats up the waste to 40 degrees Celsius and then it is transferred to three other tanks where the methane gas is collected. From there, it is cooled and filtered before going into a generator.
From the generator, electricity flows through the power lines, providing power for 250 homes in the Shubenacadie area.
Besides being on the grid, the biogas plant also heats up the family home and saves waste from being dumped into their backyard lagoon, which can create some unfavourable smells.
The farm also gets 17.5 cents a kilowatt back for providing clean energy.
“The revenue will make it easier for our sons to come on the farm and stay here. It’s a form of expansion,” says Mostert.
He says that expansion is providing their family business with security and endless energy for the future.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Amanda Debison