Does Converting Cow Manure to Electricity Pay Off?

Successful renewable energy project detailed in the Journal of Dairy Science

Amsterdam, October 13, 2011 – Studies have estimated that converting manure from the 95 million animal units in the United States would produce renewable energy equal to 8 billion gallons of gasoline, or 1% of the total energy consumption in the nation. Because more and more farmers and communities are interested in generating renewable energy from farm waste, there is a growing need for information on the economic feasibility and sustainability of such programs. 

Now, in a case study published in the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers at the University of Vermont and the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation (CVPS) confirm that it is technically feasible to convert cow manure to electricity on farms, but the economic returns depend highly on the base electricity price; the premium paid for converted energy; financial supports from government and other agencies; and the ability to sell byproducts of the methane generation. 

The CVPS Cow Power program assists farms in planning and installing anaerobic digesters and generators to convert cow manure into electricity, and markets the resulting power to its customers. Dairy farms apply for grants from CVPS, government agencies, and other organizations, and draw on their own funds and loans from local banks to install the necessary equipment. CVPS customers voluntarily participate in and agree to pay a premium of $0.04 per kWh for a proportion or all of their electricity use. 

“With more than 4,600 CVPS electricity customers voluntarily paying $470,000 in premiums per year, the Cow Power program represents a successful and locally sourced renewable energy project with many economic and environmental benefits,” says lead author Dr. Qingbin Wang, a professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont. However, the study found that because of the huge initial investment of about $2 million for equipment per farm, grants and subsidies from government agencies have been necessary; without them, few dairy farms are able to fund such a system. The price farmers received for their electricity and revenue from byproducts of the system were also critically important. 

Scenario analysis presented in the case study also suggests that relatively small changes in the premium price can have a significant impact on the cash flow of an average operation. Also, waste heat from biogas combustion can be captured and used on the farm and byproducts from the digester, in the form of animal bedding and compost, contributed significantly to the cash flow of farms – up to 26% of the total revenues in 2008.

Dr. Wang concludes, “For any community interested in a locally sourced renewable energy project like the CVPS Cow Power Program, the strong commitment and collaboration of utilities, dairy farmers, electric customers, and government agencies at the state and local level is essential.”

The article is "Economic Feasibility of Converting Cow Manure to Electricity: A Case Study of the CVPS Cow Power Program in Vermont,” by Q. Wang, E. Thompson, R. Parsons, G. Rogers, and D. Dunn. Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 94, Issue 10 (October 2011), DOI 10:3168/jds.2010-4124. Published by Elsevier.

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Notes for editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Verity Kerkhoff at +31 20 485 3310 orjdsmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to set up interviews with the authors should contact Dr. Robert L. Parsons, Extension Professor, Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont, at +1 802 656-2109 or Bob.Parsons@uvm.edu.

About the Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS)
The official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS) is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has been ranked number 3 in the Agriculture, Dairy and Animal Science category of the Journal Citation Reports® 2010, published by Thomson Reuters, with an Impact Factor of 2.463.  www.journalofdairyscience.org

About the American Dairy Science Association® (Adsa)
The American Dairy Science Association® (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world's population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.  www.adsa.org

About Elsevier

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Media contacts
Verity C. Kerkhoff
Elsevier
+31 20 485 3310
jdsmedia@elsevier.com

Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
American Dairy Science Association
+1 630 237 4961
keolson@prodigy.net