Rural Biomass Energy

Grant Proposal (PDF)

Many years ago alchemists tried unsuccessfully to find a way to convert lead into gold. Current technology allows us to achieve what alchemists could not by turning material of lesser value to a material of higher value. The process does not involve turning lead into gold, but converts cow manure into electricity. This plan creates collaboration between Elizabethtown College, Brubaker Farms, Siemens Corporation, United Technologies Corporation, and TeamAg to provide a clean, effective alternative to generate electricity while reducing odors created by spreading of manure from farming operations. In accomplishing this, the team will be doing something alchemists never thought of and improving the environment as part of the conversion process.

In the seven zip code areas surrounding Elizabethtown College, there are approximately 44,000 cattle, 84,000 hogs, and 19,000,000 chickens that produce 4,400 tons of manure daily, with the potential of producing 4,000 kW. This supply of manure can be a valuable resource for Elizabethtown College’s energy requirements while reducing objectionable odors created by the current land application of manure on fields. 

Elizabethtown College buildings consume 12,000,000 kWh of electricity and 26,000 MCF of natural gas each year. During 2002, $702,000 and $251,000 was spent by the Collegeon electricity and natural gas respectively. Besides being concerned with these rising costs, the College is committed to finding sources of clean, green energy to demonstrate environmental stewardship to their students and members of the community.

This project addresses a variety of problems facing livestock producers, and provides a source of green energy for Elizabethtown College. Housing development in Lancaster County, and in particular around the Mount Joy and Elizabethtown area is encroaching on existing farmland. Farmers frequently have to deal with neighbors who object to odors from manure. Increasing environmental regulations also place greater burdens on livestock producers for effective manure management. At the same time, producers are looking for ways to increase income and reduce costs.  

Technology exists, in the form of biogas methane digesters, to reduce the undigested material in manure by 50% resulting in significant decrease in the odor of spread material. A methane digester can be thought of as an extension to a cow’s digestive system over a 20-day period, continues the anaerobic digestion of manure in a continuous process which converts the manure to a gas made up of methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide; water and solids. The processed manure, having been subjected to twenty days of 99-degree temperatures, is nearly free of pathogens, free of fly larva and weed seeds, and can be spread on fields with significantly reduced odor. Methane, the major component of natural gas, is burned in micro-turbines or internal combustion engines to produce electricity and heat. The farmer uses some of the electricity and the heat is used to support the digester operation and to warm animal living areas. This proven technology is operating in many farming areas.