Manure gets close look as energy source

US - Mark Wiese talks about his farm's manure-to-energy project like it was one of his children.
calendar icon 5 January 2007
clock icon 2 minute read
Wiese gets to show off his "baby" at a statewide conference March 6 in Madison about the profit potential of cow manure. Although those outside of farming may not see manure management as a major concern, those who deal with animal waste and those concerned about how that waste is disposed of say it's critical. "I get calls all the time," said Wiese, who runs a 1,600-head operation with his brother Dave in southern Brown County. "We could run a tour here every day. People are calling us from all over the country." With farming operations getting bigger, there simply isn't enough land to accommodate the traditional handling of animal waste, which involves spreading the manure.

"You basically need three acres per animal unit and we just don't have that," said Bill Hafs, director of the Brown County Land Conservation Department, citing the 100,000 dairy cows in his county.

He said there are about 170,000 acres of cropland in the county that can be used to dispose of liquid manure.

"This is a timely issue for a number of reasons," said Timm Johnson, executive director of the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative, which is hosting the conference. "As operations have more cattle at a single location, the question is, 'What do you do with the manure?'"

On the Wiese Brother Farm operation, manure is placed in an indoor lagoon where the liquids evaporate.

The dried, solid biomatter becomes a peatlike fuel, which travels by conveyor to a power plant in an adjacent building where it is burned to heat water.

The resulting steam turns a turbine, which can generate up to 600-kilowatts of electricity, or enough to power 700 homes. The energy is purchased by Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

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