Biodigester might alleviate odours
Will Kingma, owner of Kingdom Farm raising hogs south of Bentley, hopes a biodigester will eliminate odour problems and make electricity available for sale to the Town of Bentley.
Updated: June 08, 2009 1:43 PM
The owner of a hog farm that has long been the bane of its neighbours has been shopping in Europe for a biodigester and power plant that he believes will get rid of odour for good.
Assuming sufficient support can be raised through grants and investors, a biogas plant will eventually pay for itself by generating electricity for sale to the provincial grid, says the farm operator.
Will Kingma, 38, purchased the former Bacon Acres — located immediately south of Bentley — a few years ago with his eyes wide open.
A nephew of its previous operators Dave and Judy Allen, Kingma had worked on the farm himself for a couple of years and was thoroughly familiar with the slough of complaints about odours from its lagoons.
He renamed it Kingdom Farm and vowed to find ways to make it a better neighbour.
“What we are trying to do is reduce the carbon footprint of the farm,” says Kingma.
“It all started because of the odours and being so close to the town. We want to be friendly neighbours. We want to be part of the community and make the community better. That’s really one of our goals.”
The bulk of that commitment has focused on a $300,000 feasibility study funded by bioenergy grants made available through Alberta Energy.
The first of its kind in Canada, the study determined that biogas systems now commercially available would provide an effective means of eliminating odour from the lagoons, says Jim Jones, business development officer for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Bio-industrial Development Branch.
Although funded as an energy project, its primary goal was to test for effective means of dealing with livestock waste, says Jones. The study looked at the effectiveness and costs of a wide variety of technologies, such as composting, combustion, odour control within the barns, biofilters for both air and water and dewatering of liquid waste.
Parkland Airshed Management Zone has also tested air quality at Bentley, finding two key contributors to odour problems, says Kingma.
The PAMZ study revealed that the farm was the more frequent contributor, but that the town lagoons located at the southwest corner of town and just north of the farm’s lagoons, were producing higher levels of H2S, the primary source of the odours.
A biogas plant could take waste from both of those sources and eliminate the problem altogether, says Kingma. The only odour left would be small amounts coming from the ventilators on the barns, he says.
Kingma is now shopping in Europe, and in Germany in particular, for a new biogas plant that can be scaled to the size of his operation.
He is currently leaning toward a German-made plant marketed by an Airdrie-based company, Double T Equipment.
Sales representative Andreas Raffeck says the Biowatt system uses liquid waste with a low percentage of manure to break down organic waste material.
Liquid left over from the process is almost free of odour and high in key soil nutrients, including phosphorous, calcium and potassium, so makes excellent fertilizers, says Raffeck.
“It’s a significant change in biogas technology. Before, we had ground tanks and a kind of 50 per cent organic waste material and 50 per cent manure. Now, we have very low manure content with a very high organic waste material content.”
Non-manure organic content could include kitchen waste, restaurant waste and waste from warehouses, but not wood or straw. Those types of materials provide about 50 per cent more energy than manure, he says.
“The power gets sold to the grid and the heat we capture and use for buildings, barns, greenhouses. We can pipe it up to two to three kilometres in very efficient ranges.”
There is also a carbon credit of 5,500 tonnes per year for the company’s smallest plant, he says.
Along with its benefits in waste disposal and energy production, the plant requires only 20 hours a week of labour, so it’s something the farm could manage with its existing workforce, says Raffeck.
Certainly, there is a huge startup cost, says Kingma. Building a one-megawatt plant would cost about $6 million.
That kind of investment doesn’t come without significant support from off the farm, including government grants and incentive programs, he says.
Unlike Denmark and Germany, which were up against a wall to find reliable energy sources, Alberta has had access for years to plentiful sources of natural gas.
Until recently, therefore, there has been considerably less incentive for funding alternative fuel projects, says Kingma.
“There is some incentive, but the question is how long some of them will be available.
“You need these incentives for probably 10 years or so, so you can start to pay down the plant, because there is not a lot of economic return on a biogas plant, strictly running hog manure.”
Kingma plans to approach the Town of Bentley and work out an agreement for construction and operation of the plant, which could process urban waste along with the manure from his barn complex.
Bentley Mayor Joan Dickau says Kingma has not yet discussed his plans with town council.
Adding extra feedstocks would increase the return from the plant and start to make the project look more profitable, says Kingma.
“If you can get oils or grease, anything like that, there’s a whole pile of energy, but it takes a little longer to break down.”
But poor returns in the livestock industry have made it very difficult to look at projects such as biogas, he says.
“It’s been very, very tough to try to go forward with very little cash flow.”
Art Preachuk, Agriculture Services Manager for Red Deer County, says poor economics across the livestock sector have been the biggest obstacle to building the sort of plant Kingma has in mind.
Red Deer County performed an extensive study to inventory the feedstocks available within its boundaries and now provides that information to farmers interested in similar projects.
The information is now available to anyone interested in pursuing a biogas project — but there is no money available to farmers who are struggling to feed their animals and pay their bills, says Preachuk.
If the livestock economy were healthier, there would probably be two or three biogas plants already up and working within Red Deer County alone, he says.