Energy from manure-fed algae project gets boost

[USA] A long-simmering project to wring fuel and electricity from manure-fed algae at a Charlotte dairy farm warmed up Thursday with the announcement of a key partnership with Vermont’s largest power utility.

The prospect bodes well for water quality in Vermont, too, supporters say.

Green Mountain Power has an agreement with Burlington-based GSR Solutions to pursue ways to add small refineries of biodiesel and even jet fuel to manure digesters that generate power, said the utility’s president and CEO Mary Powell at a news conference at Nordic Farms.

Powell said her company is offering GSR technical support, as well as a template for scaling up to larger production.

GSR Solutions President Anju Dahiya said the pace of a pilot project at the 300-cow farm will depend on federal grants and private investment, and could quicken considerably by mid-2016.

She has been working on selecting oil-rich strains of local algae since 2008.

Community-scale digester-refineries in the region might be feasible by 2020, said Richard Altman, director emeritus of nonprofit Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, who is working closely with GSR.

“This,” Altman said, gesturing to the proposed site of the new refinery, “is step one.”

Meanwhile, Green Mountain Power is supporting the retrofit of a methane-producing digester-generator at Nordic Farms — dormant since 2007 — as well as seeking permits for a three-farm manure digester near St. Albans.

The Nordic Farm project dovetails with GMP’s long-term strategy of generating electricity closer to where it is consumed, Powell said.

Dairy cows idle Thursday at Nordic Farms in Charlotte. (Photo: JOEL BANNER BAIRD/FREE PRESS)
Dairy cows idle Thursday at Nordic Farms in Charlotte. (Photo: JOEL BANNER BAIRD/FREE PRESS)

Local “micro-grids” supported by community-sized digester-refineries would be more resistant to regional power disruptions, Powell said; as well as more economically secure and more efficient than earlier “cow-power” dynamos.

The GSR Solutions system is designed to slow the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas released during manure’s decomposition. The process also sequesters organic nutrients in manure that have for generations contributed to Lake Champlain’s declines in water quality.

The new digesters “can kick the butt out of phosphorus,” Powell said, referring to a key polluting fertilizer.

Ultimately, said Nordic Farms’ owner Clark W. Hinsdale III, the best guideline for livestock-sourced nutrients is to never let them get beyond the boundaries of the farmstead.

“We should feel blessed because we are a nutrient-rich region in a nutrient-starved world,” Hinsdale said.

“Right now we’re stewing in our own juices,” he added. “We’re being asked to get ahead of the curve. And in fact we will get ahead of the curve.”

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Clark W. Hinsdale III, owner of Nordic Farms in Charlotte, speaks Thursday about an on-site algae-oil production facility designed to incorporate livestock manure. (Photo: JOEL BANNER BAIRD/FREE PRESS)

Hinsdale turned to Sandy Levine, lead attorney for nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation.

Levine’s group, notable for spearheading efforts to raise water quality standards, has been a source of “tough-love” for forward-looking dairy farmers, Hinsdale said.

Later, Levine quietly and quickly assessed the work-in-progress:

“It’s an interesting opportunity with a lot of possibilities, she said. “It’s in its infancy. That’s where solar power was not so very long ago.”

 

Photo: New end-product? A dairy cow peers at a visitor Thursday at Nordic Farms in Charlotte. Livestock manure on the farm is proposed to be part of an on-site algae-oil production facility.(Photo: JOEL BANNER BAIRD/FREE PRESS)

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