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Developer Plans to Convert Manure into Electricity

June 26, 2014

Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced in Indiana, thanks to an effort to turn manure into electricity.
By: Jeff Parrott, The Elkhart Truth

A developer is bringing a new project to Elkhart County, Ind., aimed at reducing the environmental impact of dairy farms and helping the nation's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Brian Furrer is building a $7 million facility on a former gravel mining site in rural southwest Goshen that will turn cow manure into electricity. The project, called Green Cow Power, will be up and running by September if construction goes smoothly, The Elkhart Truth reported.

The facility at 24242 C.R. 40 is believed to be the eighth such operation in Indiana. It's not the first one in the county to turn animal waste into energy, but it will be the largest. Culver Duck, a duck processor near Middlebury, also operates such a digester, using the blood, heads, tails and innards — the parts not used for food products — to generate methane that makes electricity.

Culver Duck produces about 800 kilowatts per hour of electricity, which is less than one-third of the 3 mwh that Green Cow plans to send into the grid.

Furrer has done this before. His company, Bio Town Ag, operates a larger facility in the White County town of Reynolds, about 25 miles north of Lafayette. It's producing about twice the electricity that the town of Reynolds uses.

He committed to the Reynolds project in 2005, started construction in 2010 and became operational in 2011.

Furrer, from White County, said he decided to try the concept in Elkhart County because it has so many dairy farms and it's served by electric utility NIPSCO. By contrast, Rural Electric Membership Corporations, or REMCs, serve many rural areas but haven't been willing to pay high enough prices for electricity, he said.

"NIPSCO is doing the best job of working with dairy farmers of anyone in the state," Furrer said. "We needed a dairy farm, a lot of cows, and we needed NIPSCO, so that's why we're here."

The utility industry calls such energy "biomass" and is looking to buy more biomass, solar and wind energy, all renewable sources, as new federal environmental regulations allow less use of coal. Through its Feed-in Tariff Program, NIPSCO bought about 6,200 megawatts in the program's first year, 2011, and last year bought about eight times as much, or 49,000 megawatts — enough to power about 6,000 homes per year, said NIPSCO spokeswoman Kathleen Szot.

Biomass power generation grew about five-fold, rising from 6,200 to 31,600 megawatts during that time.

Renewable sources in the FIT pilot program still make up a tiny fraction of electricity produced in coal- and natural gas-heavy Indiana, about 0.3 percent last year, but that will change eventually, Furrer predicted.

"We're going to use less dirty coal in this country," Furrer said. "That is just a fundamental fact of life. We have a governor that's fighting that and U.S. legislators and state legislators, but the reality is we're going to reduce our carbon footprint in this country. We're going to do it through many different mechanisms. This is one mechanism that's going to help."

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