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The Digester Learning Curve: What's happened since these digesters fired up?

February 23, 2010
By: Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today Western and Online Editor google + 


California's John Fiscalini has formed his own company to help other dairy producers through the permitting process.

Dairy Today has covered numerous U.S. dairy digester and cap-and-trade projects in recent years. These producers tell what they've learned since we first featured them.

Wiser for the Experience

John Fiscalini, Modesto, Calif.

When we met California's John Fiscalini in "The Dark Side of Digesters” (March 2009), he had just fired up his $4 million digester after a frustrating three years of planning, permitting and construction. The launch, however, was short-lived.

Problems with utility phone lines forced Fiscalini to shut down his digester almost immediately. In June, though, it went back online and has been running ever since.

"The digester is running better and takes less time to manage than I anticipated,” Fiscalini says. "There's no need for a full-time employee. All that's needed is to walk in and look at dials and gauges four or five times a day.”

The complete-mix, two-tank digester and accompanying generator produce about 500 kW/hr., twice the power Fiscalini's dairy needs. The Modesto Irrigation District (MID) buys all of Fiscalini's electricity, selling him back enough to power his 1,500-cow dairy. MID pays him 1¢/kW over regular user rates. It's enough for Fiscalini to just make the bank payments for the project's financing. (Only 35% of the cost of the digester was covered by grants.)

The dairy's manure handling hasn't changed much, since Fiscalini still processes the solids through a double-slope separator and uses the dried manure for freestall bedding. But he's noticed a surprising benefit.

"The quality of the manure is substantially better,” he says. "Somatic cell counts have dropped from 200,000 to 100,000. I'm 80% sure [digester-processed solids] are the reason.”

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FEATURED IN: Dairy Today - March 2010

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