Washington State U Leads Anaerobic Digester Technology For Dairy Industry

Special field day July 10 brings latest concepts to producers.

Published on: Jul 2, 2013

Washington State will host a special field day July 10  to fanfare its latest anaerobic digester technology for the dairy industry.

The Lynden, Wash., event will show new ideas – much of it developed by WSU researchers – at the event, including a suite of new tools which add value to the process. The researchers and their commercial partners claim to have transformed an environmental concern (manure) in agriculture into a viable economical solution with the digesters.

"The need to simultaneously produce renewable energy and assist growers in meeting nutrient management plans and mitigating air and water quality concerns is driving development of these technologies," says Craig Frear, WSU  Department of Biological Systems Engineering researcher. He is considered a leader in the effort to widen a system of complementary technologies centered on anaerobic digestion.

This anaerobic digester at Edaleen Cow Power in Lynden, Wash., illustrates the commercial progress for similar systems in the state.
This anaerobic digester at Edaleen Cow Power in Lynden, Wash., illustrates the commercial progress for similar systems in the state.

Anaerobic digestion is primarily the focus of a dairy industry technology. Manure management is a constant environmental concern, and a growing one with more than 450 dairies in Washington with about 275,000 cows – adding up to a big heap of waste material that must be managed, notes Frear.

Since the industry is the second largest farm business in Washington at more than $900 million in economic value, working with dairymen to resolve the waste matter is a WSU priority as part of the industry's Climate Friendly Farming Project.

 "Beyond the economic import, greenhouse-gas-related environmental concerns make dairy central to any effort to make farming more climate friendly," says Frear. "Within Washington state, 30% of dairy farms have more than 500 cows. Although large dairies or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations provide economies of scale and milk production efficiencies, the growth of CAFOs elicits climate change and other environmental concerns, particularly in regard to manure management."

Enter the anaerobic digester, not a sliver bullet but certainly a tool of relief in terms of processing dairy waste into power.

And when debuting the latest in the technology at the WSU field day, the latest improvements in anaerobic digestion were unveiled, including  usable biofertilizers, solids separation techniques, and biogas production.

"Biofertilizes that are produced through the nutrient recovery process can be used by farmers as replacements for fossil fuel based fertilizers," says Frear. "It's truly a win-win."

Many of the environmental threats from dairies are resolved using the anaerobic digestion process, he states. "Modern anaerobic digestion technology is a known wastewater treatment approach that converts complex organic material to biogas. In essence, the process biologically mineralizes a fraction of the organic carbon into inorganic carbon in the form of biogas simultaneously diminishing odors, stabilizing waste, decreasing pathogen counts and reducing green house gas emissions."

For more information on the field day , click here.