New Zealand technology turns manure into power

Mountains of manure from cows and chickens will soon be helping to heat houses in Canada thanks to technology from Flotech Inc. The New Zealand-based company has a water-scrubbing system that converts unrefined “biogas” emitted by agricultural waste into natural gas clean enough for use in homes.

Flotech’s first biogas upgrading system in Canada is now up and running at an Abbotsford farm about 80 miles southeast of Vancouver. Catalyst Power is aggregating the waste from several local farms that were struggling with dairy, poultry and vegetable waste and converting it into pipeline-quality natural gas that is injected directly into the local utility grid, helping to provide energy to more than 900,000 customers across the province.

Manure management has become a huge issue in the United States and Canada. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 335 tons of dry matter waste is produced annually on farms in the United States. With the average milk cow producing upwards of 150 pounds of waste each day, one dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city with 411,000 residents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently identified agricultural runoff as the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams.

The EPA also estimates that cattle in the United States emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year into the atmosphere. Methane has a global warming effect that is 21 times that of carbon dioxide, so capturing and using livestock methane for energy production also dramatically reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Significant reduction of manure odor is another side benefit.

Flotech’s Greenlane Biogas water scrubber installed at the British Columbia farm has the capacity to process 460 standard cubic feet per minute – the equivalent of about 1.5 megawatts of electricity or enough to heat about 1,000 homes. The system has the lowest energy consumption per unit feed of any biogas or landfill upgrading system operating in the United States and Canada, according to Sean Mezei, president of Flotech North America. It also boasts a 98 percent yield of methane from raw biogas and delivers a methane purity level of 97 percent.

With the first of the natural gas now flowing into the grid, Catalyst Power has its sights set on building similar systems at farms across Canada. Flotech is also actively involved in a number of larger projects in the United States that are expected to come online early next year.