Biomass. Wet resources. Manure. It’s what dairy farmer Arlin Van Groningen’s milking cows produce daily that has caught the attention of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
Each of Van Groningen’s 1,200 milking cows produces 120 pounds of combined manure and urine each day — enough so-called “wet resources” to generate methane for enough electric power for 250 Sacramento-area single-family homes through a digester which produces renewable electricity for SMUD.
The electricity utility that serves the Galt area recently received $5.5 million in grants from the federal Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission to help bankroll the building of New Hope’s digester and another at the nearby Van Warmerdam dairy in Galt.
New Hope’s dairy digester — a storage tank 26 feet deep — collects and breaks down the massive amounts of manure New Hope’s cows produce, then sends the cleaned methane gases to an adjacent generator.
Galt City Councilwoman Barbara Payne, who toured the project in November alongside statewide energy efficiency experts, is impressed with the innovative effort and the partnerships.
“I’m proud to see these dairyman look into the future,” she said.
Arlin Van Groningen is a third-generation dairy farmer who continues the family tradition on a 90-acre plot off Harvey Road just north of town. He owns New Hope Dairy with fellow dairyman Arlan Van Leeuwen.
At the New Hope dairy, the collected manure is pumped into the concrete and steel tank, where biogas (primarily methane) accumulates and is then transferred to an engine-generator that produces clean electricity, according to SMUD.
New Hope also uses a scrape system rather than a flush system to collect the manure, greatly reducing the use of fresh water at the dairy.
At the Van Warmerdam dairy, the waste decomposes in a covered lagoon rather than in an above-ground tank.
“You couldn’t have a better fuel supplier,” said N. Ross Buckenham, chairman and CEO of California Bioenergy, a partner in the three-year, $3.5 million project, during the New Hope Dairy tour. “Dairy gas is a phenomenally valuable renewable resource and its time has come.”
Two other digesters operate in SMUD’s service territory west of Galt and south of Elk Grove. SMUD board President Bill Slaton said the biogas has become a vital part of the utility’s energy portfolio. About 27 percent of SMUD’s energy supply comes from renewable sources, according to a news release.
In San Joaquin County, Castelanelli Bros., a Lodi-area dairy that operates an anaerobic digester that captures methane from manure, was among three companies the U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced in September would receive additional federal support for the production of advanced biofuels.
They are among 188 producers receiving nearly $15.5 million from the USDA’s Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which aids the production of fuels produced from renewable biomass. The other San Joaquin County recipients are in Stockton.
Van Groningen of Galt admitted that it took some doing to persuade him to convert his dairy waste into biofuel.
He wasn’t skeptical of the technology, but “being in the dairy industry, we’ve seen projects like this come and go,” Van Groningen said. “The technology’s been there for many years, but financing was the biggest hurdle. SMUD tore down walls and made it happen.”
When most people think of renewable power, they generally think of wind and solar. But biomass accounts for roughly 50 percent of SMUD’s renewable portfolio.
“With many biomass projects, you not only have to build the project, but you also have to go after the waste, or the fuel,” Marco Lemes, SMUD’s project manager, said in a news release. “With dairies, the fuel is already here. It’s being used on-site.”
Sacramento Bee staff writer Darrell Smith contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.