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Pumping dairy gas


Morris, Minn.- The city of Morris is no stranger to ag-based power. Corn is turned to ethanol at the Morris DENCO plant, and only 30 miles down the road, poultry litter will generate electricity at the Fibrowatt plant that will be constructed in Benson.

But it’s a big dairy herd outside town that could really give the city some gas.

That’s the findings of a study commissioned by the University of Minnesota, Morris and the city to assess local alternative-energy potential. The Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks completed the study in 2002.

The center determined that biomass energy might be feasible for the university campus. But the city’s best energy potential is biogas – produced by a manure anaerobic digester.

A dairy 12 miles from Morris happens to be expanding its herd to more than 9,000 animals. Riverview Dairy will produce an estimated 9 to 10 million cubic feet of manure per year, says Ed Larson, Morris city manager. Methane generated by a dairy that size would produce about 50 percent of the energy needed to run the UMM campus, he says.

Methane gas, produced by anaerobic bacteria breaking down manure, could be economically pumped from the dairy into Morris.

“The technology is there because it’s being done other places,” Larson says. The city is trying to acquire funds to further study and prove the methane-generation plan’s feasibility. “At this point we believe it’s viable,” he says.

Time is a factor, as the optimal time to install the digester and infrastructure to pump the gas is while the new dairy facility is being built.

An undertaking of this size is challenging, Larson admits, but adds that cities and counties have more flexibility than industry to get it done. Cities have access to low-interest loans and can issue municipal bonds to fund projects.

“We already have some potential users, including DENCO, who are heavy users of natural gas,” Larson says.

“We’ve been told by the legislature that cities need to be creative and innovative. We are trying to do that and establish revenue streams to offset (state) cuts to local government aid.”

The city would not only be using a renewable resource, but “stabilizing the price of gas, which would be good for the industry of Morris,” says Michael Sparby, AURI project development director. “It would essentially create self-sufficiency within the community,” and tie dairy industry growth to industrial development.