Cash Cows: Vermont Dairy Farm Converts Cattle Manure into Electricity

cow-faceA Vermont dairy farm is producing something other than milk.  Earlier this month, state officials were on hand to visit Vermont’s newest methane facility.  Westminster Farms Inc.,  along with Green Mountain Power (GMP), have been working together in an on-site plant that converts methane gas released from cow manure into electricity.

Cow manure is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses and the runoff from manure pollutes water.  Taking a liability and converting it into an asset, just made environmental and economic sense to the farm’s Shawn Goodell.  An anaerobic digester is used to mix, heat and break down the manure.  The raw manure and ag substrates produce methane biogas, which  is captured and then generates electricity.  And with an estimated 1,200 cows on the Westminster-based dairy farm, finding a supply of manure is not a problem!  Sure gives new meaning to the term “natural gas” doesn’t it?

Liquid waste will be used as fertilizer.   Leftover solids will be used as cattle bedding, saving the farm about $80,000 on the cost of sawdust.   And that is good news, especially considering the state of the economy.   Like other businesses and industries, the dairy industry is also feeling the pinch.  It is estimated that less than 1,100 dairy farms remain in Vermont.  That’s about 300 less than five years ago.

While the technology is not new to Vermont, Westminster Farms is the latest dairy farm in Vermont to convert methane into energy.  Westminster Farms will receive a fixed price per kilowatt hour generated.  Since July, the project has been producing about 225 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power about 250 homes on a daily basis.  GMC customers will be given the option of purchasing the renewable energy.

The project took about three years to bring to fruition.  Funding for the $1.5 million project was a collaborative effort between both state and federal agencies.   According to the GMP press release, Westminster Farms invested about $700, 000 and Vermont-based Green Mountain Power committed $175, 000.  Other agencies involved in  funding the endeavor include the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Vermont Department of Agriculture, Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation (VACC) and Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund.

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Jace is the Internet Feature Writer for Suite101 and is the Holidays and Working Moms Examiner for She is a regular contributor for Energy Boom, EcoWorldly and PlanetSave. She particularly enjoys writing about unusual and downright wacky environmental stories and issues plaguing wildlife and animals.Besides writing, Jace is also passionate about online safety and issues concerning children. As an Internet Safety educator, she teaches online safety and technology to 600 elementary-aged children every week for her local school district.Jace has two children who are both in college and is also mom to a slew of pets.

15 responses

    1. there’s nothing new about the technology and in fact a firm once related to Green Mountain, Native Energy has developed an entire line of green energy business based on dairy farm manure converted to energy. They have several projects on-line and operating now. This is important work and should be replicated many times over, but it is not easy. the three years cited here are not uncommon, and few have the patience for the permitting, accrediting, etc. nevermind the diffulties of financing such a project in the first place.
      nonetheless, there could be thousands of such projects just in the American northeast, bringing income to farmers who dearly need it, and producing kilowatts in the section of America that is most dependent on Middle East oil right now.
      not pretty or sexy like wind or solar power, but if anything, this sort of energy production is even more green since it attacks such a serious greenhous gas emission problem right at the source.

  1. This is great work.
    But I’ve often wondered about the potentially greater efficiency of using the gas to pump water, heat water and refrigerate milk directly rather than going from gas to electricity and then back to heating, cooling etc – a two step conversion loss instead of one.
    And in Australia, the cost of connecting into the grid can be large.

    Any comments?

  2. It’s animal burping, not the manure, that is a large contributor to methane emissions. Globally, cows and other ruminants (cud-chewers with multiple stomachs such as water buffalo, sheep and goats) contribute about 15% to the world’s total methane emissions. Manure is a much smaller source – maybe a few percent – because it produces methane only when managed under anaerobic (low- or no-oxygen) conditions.

    1. While it is true that a great deal of methane is generated in digestion, the majority of the methane is released when the manure is left in piles or the “new” way – ‘lagoons’. When it rains and the ‘lagoons’ overflow, then we get ‘tainted’ crops that kill people because of the dangerous bacteria that this method increases. These are Aerobic bacteria. Covering the ‘pools’ turns the process into an Anaerobic one, generating much more methane, which is captured and burned off to produce electricity (cleanly). (this method can be used with ANY species ‘manure’ and also with ‘landfills’ – don’t ya just love those euphemisms…. and yes, this method has been studied and perfected for a very long time. A friend of mine constructed one for a friends’ farm as a summer project, back in 1970, and the very scientifically described results duly handed over to our government who were no doubt “lobbied” to suppress it

  3. If it is not measurable and taxable or replaces anything that is, it will not be welcomed by government! If it shows any promise of ROI and juicing for higher ROI’s corporate interests will apply patent lawyers to it and steal it from the common folk and exploit it fir themselves. This is the law in the new America, not a Democracy at all! but a pit of tax hungry political hacks serving a greater community of corporatists capitalist ROI hungry thieves!America has evolved!

  4. “….Liquid waste will be used as fertilizer. Leftover solids will be used as cattle bedding, saving the farm about $80,000 on the cost of sawdust….”

    If these leftovers are used for bedding doesn't that bedding get mixed with the fresh manure and lower the efficiency of the digester as it goes around a second time?

    Where can I find detailed information on the process? Is the liquid fertilizer better than composted manure? How does the cattle diet influence the process?

  5. Dear all

    we hope, all will be soon
    i want to know is there any plants operating now i.e electricity generating from cow manure
    where it is
    i am interested to do it
    please give me the details if any operating plants

    if not to whom i can contact to get the details to establish such electricity generating from cow manure plant ,how much it cost i.e.initial cost and working capital etc

    can contact me by mail : aaarudra@gmail:disqus .com

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