NY Farm Smells Like Victory For Biogas Technology

A new power project has opened at a farm in upstate New York that’s intended to process cow manure and food waste into enough energy to 1,000 homes.

The facility, called Synergy Biogas, is at the Synergy Dairy, a 2,000-head dairy farm in Covington, Wyoming County, southwest of Rochester. It becomes the state’s largest on-farm co-digestion biogas project to date.

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image via GE

Known as a co-digester, the facility was built by renewable energy firm CH4 Biogas and has a capacity of 120,000 gallons, which equates to roughly 425 tons per day of manure and food waste. Biogas created in the facility is fueling a GE-built Jenbacher engine to generate 1.4 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose office helped coordinate funding for the project, joined state and local officials recently for the plant’s grand opening.

In a statement, Schumer said: “This Synergy co-digestion biogas project is the cutting edge of energy technology and is an absolute revenue-producing game changer for our dairies and local economies. By recycling agricultural waste in biogas plants, dairies can reduce disposal costs, produce affordable renewable energy to run their operations and gain a revenue source by selling excess power to the grid.

“I’ve been proud to help keep this project on track to ensure it crossed the finish line,” the senator added.

In spite of the unpleasant smells it might conjure up, creating energy from waste is an attractive option to many — mainly because there’s so much of it about. Roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, according to a report requested by the United Nations. That amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.

The biogas system works anaerobically — in other words, in the absence of oxygen. Naturally occurring microorganisms, bacteria and methanogens break down biodegradable materials and convert them to biogas and fertilizer, which can be used as fuel for power generation.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.