From cow poop to power, Everett, Washington, February 18, 2009

"MONROE, Wash. -- It's 193 feet long, 80 feet wide and 17 feet deep, and
its belly used to be filled with milk.

Now, this milk tank is holding more than 1 million gallons of another
product from cows: manure.

Burbling away inside that tank is a hope that it can save local dairy
farms, keep streams cleaner and make energy.

Snohomish County's first biogas plant -- located at the old Honor Farm
in the rural Tualco Valley -- is starting to do just that.

Dairies send cow manure to the plant through underground pipes. The
pipes all lead to a vat of twirling, swirling bovine excrement.

That milk tank is now a biodigester, which separates methane gas from
the manure. The gas heads to a generator. The leftovers get a new life:
The liquid returns to the fields as a nutrient-rich soil amendment and
the leftover fiber gets mixed with biosolids from Monroe and turned into
compost that can be sold.

The plant has been glugging away since December, producing enough energy
to power hundreds of homes continuously, said Dale Reiner, a cattle
rancher who has spent thousands of unpaid hours on the project. The
nonprofit group behind the biogas plant, Qualco Energy, just signed a
contract to sell power to Puget Sound Energy. The plant, paid for by
loans and grants, cost about $4 million.

Reiner believes this is one way to save dairies, which have struggled
against fluctuating milk prices, industry concentration, urban sprawl
and limits on waste disposal.

Three dairies have signed contracts to work with the plant.

The Tulalip Tribes, one of the partners in the nonprofit, want something
too: cleaner streams and healthier salmon runs. Runs have declined and
boats sit dry-docked on the edge of Tulalip Bay. Dealing with dairy
waste upstream is one method for helping the fish.

The Honor Farm, 277 acres of fields and farm buildings, used to belong
to the reformatory in Monroe. The state signed it over to the tribes.

The tribes receive no direct economic benefit from the venture.

"They get nothing out of it," Reiner said. "They're interested in clean
water and they want farmers. They've said they'd rather have cows than
condos." "

Dr. Ann C. Wilkie                          Tel: (352)392-8699
Soil and Water Science Department          Fax: (352)392-7008
University of Florida-IFAS
P.O. Box 110960                         E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Gainesville, FL 32611-0960
Campus location: Environmental Microbiology Laboratory (Bldg. 246).
BioEnergy and Sustainable Technology Society