Sunday, March 26, 2017

Western NY Farm Powers Up on Manure, Wastewater and Food Scraps

Empire Farm & Dairy magazine

PAVILION — Not much goes to waste at Noblehurst Farms in Livingston County.

Noblehurst Farms anaerobic digester.
An anaerobic digester is processing the farm’s manure, waste water and milk, and food scraps from stores, restaurants and universities to generate enough energy to power its dairy farm and creamery.

Noblehurst, a 1,750-cow dairy farm, built its first digester in 2001-02.

“We liked the ability to reduce or eliminate our electricity costs on the dairy and to reduce the odor in the manure,” said Chris Noble, who is Noblehurst’s vice president and an eighth-generation farmer. “We were also able to convert some of the effluent from the digester into bedding for the animals.”

Noblehurst Farms is a multi-family business that has 31 shareholders ranging in ages from 26 to 88 with 17 of those shareholders involved in the farm or affiliated businesses.

About 40 employees work at Noblehurst Farms, which also raises 1,400 head of youngstock.

The farm harvests about 3,000 acres of corn for silage and grain, alfalfa haylage, wheat and triticale.

Noble is involved in the financial side of the business. He has responsibility as the manager of Craigs Station Ventures, a joint venture with DFA in Craigs Station Creamery, Noblehurst Green Energy, which involves the anaerobic digester, and Natural Upcycling, a food waste collection partnership.

A fire in 2011 destroyed the generator portion of the original digester. During 2013-14 the farm built its second digester, which was larger and was designed to accept various types of food waste.

“We thought that was an important feature of the new digester so that we could add income (in the form of tipping fees) that would help further offset the cost of the system,” Noble said.

Natural Upcycling collects food waste from more than 30 Wegmans locations in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse areas.

Natural Upcycling works with other composting and digester sites, notably Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency in Syracuse where the Wegmans food scraps are destined. They collect from a variety of other customers as well, universities, food manufacturers, restaurants, etc.

“We process approximately 10-12 tons per day of food scraps and packaged food waste at the digester,” Noble said. That food waste would normally go to a landfill.

The digester’s generator produces approximately 450 kilowatts of power (per hour?). That electricity powers 100 percent of the dairy farm’s needs and 100 percent of Craigs Station Creamery’s needs, Noble said. During certain times of the year the farm also sells some power back to National Grid.

Noble said the farm has considered other sources of producing energy. They have solar panels on the the roof of the dairy’s milking parlor and the creamery for generating energy to heat hot water.

“We have looked at both solar and wind power but biogas-fueled power offers the best bang for our buck based on electricity produced per kilowatt hour produced,” Noble said.

Funding and assistance

“Anaerobic digesters support New York’s nation-leading energy strategy to incorporate energy efficiency and renewable energy into business operations to lower energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” a NYSERDA spokesman said. 

“Through the use of clean energy technologies, farms across the state are helping the state reduce its carbon footprint and protect our environment for generations to come,” the spokesman said.

Noble said the best source of information for others considering implementing digesters is from farmers who have already installed them.

“They would be able to tell you what works and doesn’t work,” Noble said. “Cornell University PRO-Dairy has a great team of people with vast knowledge of these systems.”

The digester itself does not really get rid of the manure – only about 3-4 percent is consumed by the process. itself.

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