2010-02-18 / Local & State

Farm Milks Methane For All It’s Worth


LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – When rock band Bon Jovi goes on tour and Ben & Jerry’s makes its famous ice cream, they lower their carbon footprint thanks to dairy cows in Lancaster County.

That’s because Brubaker Farms outside Mount Joy takes the manure from 750 dairy cows and converts the methane gas it generates into enough renewable electricity to power 150 to 200 homes.

In addition to trapping methane – a global-warming gas _ the process creates electricity that doesn’t have to be generated by a fossil-fuel power plant. That saves carbon dioxide, another heat-trapping gas, from being released into the atmosphere.

“People have different ideas about global warming,’’ Mike Brubaker, of Brubaker Farms, said earlier this month after giving a talk on alternative energy choices for farmers at the 2010 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit held in Lancaster.

The electricity is sold to PPL for a profit. In addition, because Brubaker Farms’ $1 million anaerobic methane digester churns out renewable energy, the family receives carbon credits that are worth money.

The credits are purchased by an energy broker. Environmentally conscious groups or companies such as Bon Jovi and Ben & Jerry’s buy the credits to offset the energy they use while helping bankroll earth-friendly ventures such as Brubaker Farms.

The energy broker that the Brubaker family chose, Vermontbased NativeEnergy, specifically targets family farms and community based renewable energy projects.

Though the family cares about the environment, Brubaker said that when he, his brother, Tony, and his father, Luke, decided to invest in the manure digester system two years ago, it was primarily a business decision.

The family’s dairy and poultry operation, like other farms here, had been hit hard by falling dairy prices.

“A farm’s got to grow in economic value in some shape or form,’’ Mike Brubaker told about 100 people attending the alternative energy talk at the Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center.

In December 2007, the manure digester system went into operation. It was funded in part with state and federal grants.

An electric scraper automatically rakes manure in multiple barns into an underground piping system. Manure gas is collected and sent to a generator that converts it into electricity.

About 20 percent of the electricity is used on the farm, but most is sold to PPL because it’s even more profitable to sell it than to operate without a monthly electric bill.

In addition to the alternative energy benefits, the methane digester reduces odor from the farm and leaves the manure end product dry and nearly pathogen-free, so it can be used as bedding material.

Also, the manure that’s still spread onto fields as fertilizer won’t run off into local streams or seep into groundwater, and it has nutrients that can be better absorbed by crops. Hot air from the process is used to heat water on the farm.

The Brubakers are so pleased with the venture into alternative energy that they’re having a local company install 720 solar panels atop the south-facing roof of a new heifer barn. The project should be generating more electricity in a matter of weeks.

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