Dairy facility turns manure into natural
It is a steady supply of feedstock for a facility
that literally does not stop coming. That is how Brad Frazee describes
cow manure that is being turned into pipeline quality natural gas
at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Intrepid Technology & Resources
Intrepid launched the project at the Whitesides
Dairy, a 4,000-head dairy farm near Rupert, Idaho, three-years ago.
“We’re basically producing pipeline quality gas as we
speak,” said Frazee, vice president and manager of biofuel
production at Intrepid.
Frazee said Intrepid approached the project from
an engineering standpoint. “If you have a large enough operation
and you have sufficient manure of the right quality we can turn
it into methane gas and purify it into a pipeline quality material,”
Intrepid built the anaerobic digester facilities
at Whitesides. Each digester is 13 feet in diameter and 34 feet
tall. “We are taking raw manure that is collected on a daily
basis at the dairy. We pump manure into those vessels 24 hours a
day,” Frazee said.
The digesters heat the manure back up to about
100 degrees Fahrenheit. This breaks down the manure into gases.
“It is about 8 percent solids going into the digester and
only about 4 percent solids coming out. The remainder has been converted
into both methane and carbon dioxide gas. The methane gas we recover,”
“We clean the gas up to the same specs that
natural gas has. There is really no differentiation between our
product and what’s in a natural gas line.” American
Mobil Research Inc, a lab in Casper, Wyoming, confirmed that the
gas produced by Intrepid meets the requirement for direct injection
into a commercial pipeline system in July.
Frazee said that Intrepid does not compare its
cost of production to the cost of natural gas production. “I
don’t know what their cost of production is. What we do know
is that we can make a profit by selling at current prices,”
Frazee said. He said that most anaerobic digesters at dairy farms
are currently used to generate electric power.
“We believe the economics of taking it to
pipeline quality gas are better than the economics of converting
it and selling it as electricity,” Frazee said. Even if the
price of natural gas falls, Frazee said that turning manure into
natural gas would be economical.
Intrepid currently makes most of its revenues
by providing engineering and technical services. According to a
filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission,
the company expects to decrease its engineering and technical services
as it completes its transition to becoming a producer and distributor
of biogas facilities.
The company reported operating revenue for fiscal
2006, ended June 30, totaling $447,400 compared to $399,153 during
fiscal 2005. For the year it reported a net loss of $1.9 million
compared to a net loss of $1.4 million during the previous fiscal
Intrepid expects to fund its expansion through
a combination of debt and equity, according to its filing. Frazee
said that Intrepid has about a half a dozen other projects on the
drawing board located in states from Washington to Ohio. “We
are looking for operations where they’ve got in excess of
3,000 head of cattle in a single dairy operation. That’s a
beginning point that makes sense to us economically,” Frazee
“While the technology would work on a very
small operation, the economics would not pan out. It does take a
certain economy of scale to make this profitable.”
immediate focus however is a five-fold expansion on the facilities
at the Whitesides Dairy. “That will be our focus for the next
five months. We’ve got a second facility also under construction.
Most of these will be online next spring,” Frazee said.
Once online, Intrepid plans to start selling its
natural gas to Intermountain Gas Co. It is the primary distributor
of natural gas in Idaho. It serves over 275,000 customers.
Intermountain Gas is in the market to buy as long
as Intrepid has pipeline quality natural gas said Eldon Book, senior
vice president, general manager utility operations, at Intermountain
Gas. “That would be the only caveat that we would require,”
Intermountain Gas is a subsidiary of Intermountain
Industries Inc., a closely held company based in Boise, Idaho. Book
said that the company is not investing in the project. “We’re
strictly a local distribution company. We procure gas from the pipeline.”
This would be the first alternative source for
Intermountain Gas. Book would not discuss a purchase price saying
this is a proprietary issue between Intermountain and Intrepid.
“But it will be something that will be fair for them and fair
for us,” Book said.
Intermountain’s natural gas supply is currently
from Williams’ Northwest Pipeline transmission system, which
is a primary artery for the transmission of natural gas to the Pacific
Northwest. The pipeline is a 4,158-mile bi-directional transmission
system crossing the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming,
Utah and Colorado operated by The William Companies Inc., headquartered
in Tulsa Oklahoma.
Book anticipates similar manure to natural-gas
facilities across the country. “I think there is certainly
a need. The dairy industry is a large industry,” Book said.
“If Intrepid and their technology works, I think it’s
going to be a great start.”
Book said the project would also help the region.
“They’re helping out dairy farmers within the area.
That’s all tied to the local economy. I think that is good
for everyone,” Book said.