Himark bioGas Inc

New manure digester generates heat at World Dairy Expo

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Courtesy of Himark bioGas Inc

For anyone visiting the World Dairy Expo, there can be a lot to digest.

The world's largest dairy trade show begins Tuesday at Alliant Energy Center. Around 65,000 people are expected to attend.

There are 752 companies and organizations exhibiting and there will be approximately 3,000 cows on the grounds. There will be 14 cattle shows, eight virtual farm tours and the Badger Dairy Club expects to whip up about 22,000 cheese sandwiches at its food tent.

'People live for this week and it's become such a tradition in Madison,' said Katie DeBruin of Johnson Creek, whose family is showing four Holsteins at the expo. 'In the cow business, we don't call it the Dairy Expo. We call it Madison.'

For the first year something else will be digested here, too - manure. Highmark Renewables of Alberta, Canada, has a mobile digester on the grounds.

Each day of the expo, 500 pounds of manure from the cows of genetics company Semex will be dumped into the semitrailer that houses the Highmark digester. Almost immediately, it begins to make methane gas.

'Obviously, we're not making huge amounts , but it's a safe small-scale system,' said Trevor Nickel, assistant general manager at Highmark Renewables. 'We're making enough to show that easily you could heat up your house with this.'

At the expo, Highmark's digester is powering a gas grill.

The product is called IMUS - an integrated manure utilization system. It's making it US debut at the World Dairy Expo.

Digesters aren't new to the Madison area. In August, ground was broken on a $12 million manure digester on a dairy farm near Waunakee that will take in manure from three farms and turn it into energy. The state has provided $3.3 million for the project.

Approximately 150 digesters are in use in the US, said John George of Agricultural Engineering Associates, a consulting organization based in Uniontown, Kan.

George has been working with renewable energies on farms for decades, but says he's excited about this system because it was designed to work with sand-laden manure. This technology, George and Nickel say, can make the sand a reusable byproduct as well as the methane gas and waste solids that are produced.

Many dairy farmers use sand bedding for their cows, and being able to reuse it could save in costs there, too, George said.

'There are producers who have been using sand forever and have been wanting to use renewables and have been unable to do it,' he said.

Along with the trade and cattle shows, environmental issues are also an important part of the World Dairy Expo, said marketing manage Lisa Behnke.

'I think there's this misconception that farmers are users of the land and not stewards of the land,' she said. 'If that were true, nobody would be able to make a living.'

An expo seminar Tuesday addresses the topic. Chris Voell of the US Environmental Protection Agency's AgSTAR program will talk about manure digesters at 1pm in Exhibition Hall.

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