Shawn Saylor of Hillcrest Saylor Farm in Rockwood, Pennsylvania has saved $200,000 by taking what most Dairy Farmers regard as waste and turning it into energy. With the use of a Methane Digester, Saylor takes his dairy cows manure, cultivates it and harvests the methane. The methane is then used to power a generator that provides electricity for his farm and enough to sell back to the energy grid.
Digesters have been in use in the US since the 1970's but they never really caught on in US agro industry because of the high cost of implementation and the low cost of fuel. Since energy prices have been on the move in the last couple years, more farmers are turning to the process. Traditionally the digester equipment costs around $1.7 million dollars, but Saylor was not happy with the current digester designs and implementations so he set out to build his own.
Funded by a $600,000 grant from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection and Native-Energy, a carbon offset company that purchased the off-sets that the digester would produce over the next 20 years, Saylor was able to begin construction in early 2006 and complete the system later that year. After being in service for over 2 1/2 years, Saylor claims that between the energy savings and selling the excess energy, this process is worth $200,000 a year in savings and revenue.
On top of the financial savings, Saylor is preventing most of the greenhouse gas Methane from entering the atmosphere. The process is also better for his soil. The digester produces an almost pathogen free, pH neutral fertilizer that doesn't require any processing or lye treatments to fertilize his feed crops. Furthermore, Saylor reports that the process removes almost all of the smell usually associated with a cow farm.
Saylor isn't stopping there. By using the excess heat from the digester to process his excess feed stock and feed stock waste into biofuels he will completely close the loop on his operations, becoming completely energy independent and realizing even greater cost reductions.
Cattle and dairy farms have come under a lot of heat lately because of the amount of waste they create, greenhouse gasses they emit and energy they use. Hillcrest Saylor Farm has become a model of innovation for the industry demonstrating how profitable being environmentally sound can be. There are currently 135 digesters used in the US (mostly on Dairy Farms) and now that Saylor has shown that they can not only reduce costs but generate revenue I suspect we'll be seeing more and more of them.