The 60 tanker loads of milk that leave Fair Oaks dairies in northwest Indiana no longer stop at filling stations to fuel up on $4/gal diesel.
Instead, these specially-fitted tractor semis head to dairy manufacturing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee powered by natural gas produced through special processing in the heart of the cluster of dairies that milk 30,000 cows.
Fair Oaks Farms has been producing methane and powering gensets to produce electricity for about a decade. But about 40% of the gas was burned off because it was laden with carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Now, through simple (but expensive) scrubbing technology, natural gas is being produced.
It’s pure enough to power 9 liter engines to deliver the milk that leave the dairies each day and save 12 million diesel-fueled road miles each year. The semi-tractors are currently run by 9 liter engines, which limits the topography they can climb. New, 12-liter engines coming in August will allow the trucks to climb mountains and deliver milk anywhere in the country, says Mike McClosey, co-owner of Fair Oaks.
McCloskey gave a guided tour yesterday of dairy co-op leaders of Fair Oaks and the energy project. They are in Indiana for the National Dairy Producers Conference this week.
The dream is to eventually have natural gas fueling stations that will allow the trucks to run to the southeastern United States. And in a partnership with Dairy Farmers of America, plans are in place to build a similar network in the Southwest.
Initially, the fueling stations will tap into conventional natural gas pipelines. Eventually, large dairies in these areas might produce their own on-site natural gas to contribute to the fuel supply.