Deriving power from manure

PHOTO BY RICK WOOD STANWOOD/CAMANO NEWS Daryl Maas, owner of Farm Power Northwest, stands in front of a generator that will soon be powered by gas derived from cow manure.
This is one idea that's full of possibilities.

A dairy farm with 700 cows creates a lot of milk. It also creates a lot of manure.

Daryl Maas, owner of Farm Power Northwest, would love to see more of it because he plans to turn the manure into electricity.

The company broke ground on a new manure digester, located northwest of Mount Vernon west of Conway, in October of last year.

If everything goes right, they will begin to produce energy by the end of August, said Maas.

When it comes online, the Rexville-Beaver Marsh digester will have an output of 750 kilowatt hours per day, or roughly enough to power 550 homes, he said.

Maas is banking on the success of the Rexville site to encourage more farms to come onboard.

"We have to start kind of small," he said. "We'd love to expand someday."

Maas said he would like to bring a project to Stanwood.

An earlier feasibility study conducted within the Stillaguamish Valley concluded it was too costly to install the infrastructure to collect, transport and process the manure from farms that were too geographically spread out.

However, Maas envisions a multi-farm proposal, backed by state incentives that would make it feasible to develop a digester site for area farms.

There has been considerable interest here, he said.

Two brothers and a couple dozen local investors, including one from Camano Island, comprise the company.

Anaerobic digester technology is nothing new.

"They've been using it in wastewater treatment for a long time," he said.

The process is fairly simple.

Two farms, supplying manure from more than 1,100 cows, flank the digester.

Cow manure, together with food scraps, is brought into a holding tank.

Once collected, the manure is heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which accelerates bacteria in the collection tank. As bacteria break the manure down, gas mostly methane is released and fuels an electrical generator.

Even the generator works on energy-efficient principles, said Maas. Natural heat, produced by the biological breakdown of the waste, produces a heated water by-product.

"We don't have to burn any fuel to get hot water," he said.

Maas got involved with the manure-to-power concept when his brother Kevin was working on a project for his Masters of Business Administration degree on the subject.

"I was always interested in energy and farming," said Maas. "We grew up around farms."

Maas said he doesn't want to see the farming lifestyle go away.

"The idea is to keep farms viable," he said.

Maas will host a tour of the Rexville facility this Sat., June 27 at 10:30 a.m., meeting at Rexville Grocery, 19271 Best Road, Mount Vernon.

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