Waste-to-energy biomass program unveiled in West Michigan

A Ravenna dairy farm will be home to a new biodigester to turn animal waste into electricity. The construction of the dairy farm biomass conversion plant was announced today by the Michigan Public Service Commission, Grand Valley State University, and farmer Tim den Dulk. This will be a commercial demonstration of an advanced biodigester technology that converts renewable dairy biomass waste into valuable methane gas and subsequently to electricity...

MUSKEGON, MI, Oct. 20, 2006 -- A Ravenna dairy farm will be home to a new biodigester to turn animal waste into electricity. The construction of the dairy farm biomass conversion plant was announced today by the Michigan Public Service Commission, Grand Valley State University, and farmer Tim den Dulk.

This will be a commercial demonstration of an advanced biodigester technology that converts renewable dairy biomass waste into valuable methane gas and subsequently to electricity. This biomass plant also produces pathogen-free fertilizer byproducts and an additional critical benefit to the state's environmental protection by the removal of sulfur and odor compounds and methane emissions from such naturally decaying biomass materials.

The development of renewable energy biomass digesters will also demonstrate that these technologies will create a new job market in the farming communities of this state as they have so successfully done in Europe. This biomass plant will be built on the den Dulk dairy farm in Ravenna, MI, in Muskegon County.

The project is being conducted with Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MARECO) in Muskegon. It's being funded with a $1 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission. The den Dulk farm will contribute $1.2 million for the site preparation required to host the biodigester.

The biodigester itself will be 48 feet in diameter and 47 feet tall. The manure from the cows will be will be kept in the digester tank for an average of 21 days. While in the tank, it will be kept at around 98.6 degrees. The waste mixed by a giant mixer in the tank and will be broken down by microbes. The main product of the process is biogas, which is comprised of 60% methane. That gas will have the hydrogen sulfide removed to eliminate its sour smell before transferred to a holding tank. Then it will be available to be used in microturbines or boilers to create electricity and heat.

Not only will the project create energy using a plentiful and locally produced fuel, but it will cut down on pollution. The other product of the process is a material called "digestate," which is nutrient-rich and can be used as a fertilizer. That product has a 95% reduction of odor and a 99% reduction of pathogens compared to unprocessed manure.

MAREC (www.gvsu.edu/marec/) was established as a SmartZone created by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in 2001 as part of an effort to promote and attract high technology business development in the state. As the first fully integrated demonstration facility for distributed generation of electricity using alternative and renewable energy technologies in the United States, it functions as a business incubator for companies working on developing commercial applications for alternative and renewable energies. In addition, MAREC ensures Grand Valley State University will be a leader in developing interdisciplinary alternative energy education and product development programs. For more information, click here.

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