California’s First Cluster of Dairy Digesters

Calgren Renewable Fuels and Maas Energy Works Partner with a Dozen Dairies

An open house on Oct. 25 highlighted California’s first cluster of dairy digesters.  A partnership organized by Calgren Renewable Fuels will be processing the biogas from a dozen dairies.  The event attracted over 200 people to the Calgren ethanol plant near Pixley, in southern Tulare County. The program funded in part by grants from the state of California, will include an anaerobic digester at each dairy to be built and managed by Maas Energy Works based in Redding, Calif.  The resulting methane gas is transported to the Calgren plant by 22 miles of underground pipeline.  There the gas is cleaned to bring it up to fuel grade standards.  It will be used to fire the ethanol plant itself, with additional fuel available for use in vehicles and for sale back to the utility as compressed natural gas.

Visitors tour the Calgren biogas facilities.

A manure separator at each dairy will generate bedding from manure and water for irrigating crops, equipment already installed in many cases. The lagoon holding the manure water is covered to capture the methane gases emitted. The gas sold to Calgren from the new digesters will generate a new income stream for the dairies. And the methane now going into the atmosphere will be captured instead, significantly reducing the carbon footprint, mandated by state law  (a 40% reduction is required by 2030).

The Calgren plant began operation back in 2008, one of three in California.  It’s producing some 58 million gallons a year from corn and sorghum.  It sells back to area dairies the resulting corn by-product, wet distillers’ grain, some 400,000 tons per year.  It also produces 1.5 million gallons of corn oil sold to local poultry producers and bio diesel facilities. To capture more energy and further reduce emissions from ethanol production, Calgren has partnered with a firm, Air Liquide Industrial, that produces carbon dioxide – CO2 – for commercial uses.

This cluster is not Calgren’s first experience with dairy manure.  In 2011, Calgren installed a digester on site and contracted with the Junio family at Four-J Dairy a mile away to take all the manure from their 1600 Jerseys.  It was piped to Calgren, with the resulting biogas reducing the plant’s energy use by eight percent.  The dried bedding material was trucked back to Four-J and the Junios received the manure water by pipeline for use on their 800 acres of cropland.  They no longer needed a lagoon with its related costs.

Speaking at the open house, Calgren president Lyle Schyler explained how these projects increase the efficiency of the plant while reducing both its costs and environmental footprint.  When the project is completed, some 130,000 tons of greenhouse gases will no longer go into the atmosphere, the equivalent of removing 35,000 cars from the road.

Daryl Maas, owner and CEO of Maas Energy Works, thanked the dairy producers for their willingness to commit to this project.  Maas has 14 dairy digesters online and 38 projects underway.

Pixley dairy producer Joey Airoso has the first digester to be operational sending biogas to the plant.  He told visitors that he did upgrade the separator which produces bedding and he retains the manure water for irrigation stored in the covered lagoon that powers the digester.  Maas Energy monitors and manages the unit on his dairy that reduces the moisture content of the methane coming out of the covered lagoon and pumps the gas to Calgren.  A big advantage to the participating dairy families in the cluster is that on-farm engines and related equipment are not needed to burn the gas to generate electricity, reducing the cost and management headaches.

This equipment at Joey Airoso’s dairy collects and sends the biogas captured by the digester to the Calgren facility.

California’s Department of Agriculture reported that its grants totaled some $16 million while $17.5 million in matching funds were provided by the dairies and Calgren.

The dairies participating in the cluster represent a total of 35,000 milking age cows and an additional 40,000 heifers, all in the Pixley area, are:  4K Dairy, Leslie & Brittany Souza; Cornerstone Dairy, Rick Gorzeman; K&M Visser Dairy, Keith Visser; Legacy Ranch, Jared, Josh & Frank Fernandes; Little Rock Dairy & Blue Moon Farms (a centralized digester), Rick Gorzeman, Anthony Gorzeman and Omar Torres; Pixley Dairy, Clarence Bosman & Josh Williams; Riverview Dairy, Randy Gorzeman; Robert Vander Eyk & Sons Dairy, Robert & Arlene Vander Eyk; Sousa & Sousa Dairy, Carl Sousa; North Creek Dairy  and J & J Vander Poel Dairy, Ron & Joe Vander Poel; and Circle A Dairy, Air-Osa Holsteins, Joey Airoso.

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