Faced with the universal business problem of rising power costs, dairyfarmer Quentin Moxey struck on a novel solution.
“Power costs have just been increasing rapidly and they’ve been trending upwards,” Mr Moxey, the owner of Moxey Farms, told Fairfax Media.
“We started looking at ways to drive down costs when we realised we were sitting on a source of energy: cow manure.”
The revelation became an Australian-first project, using cow manure to generate ‘green’ electricity, and meet 100 per cent of its power needs.
While a number of Australian farms have installed solar panels, with dairy farms in Victoria developing a solar energy microgrid trading electricity through by blockchain processes and a NSW abattoir using rotting meat, manure and offal to generate electricity, this is the largest solely manure-powered generator.
The dairy at Gooloogong, just west of Cowra in New South Wales’ Central West, has 6000 head of cattle. These cows are each capable of producing around 30 kilograms of waste a day. This equates to around 5700 tonnes of manure a year.
Under the process to be used at Moxey, the manure is flushed into specially built pits where the liquids and solids are separated and processed through anaerobic fermentation, which uses micro-organisms to break down the waste and acts like a giant stomach.
The system captures the methane released during this biodigestion process as a burnable gas. The project will produce three megawatts of renewable energy, displacing the equivalent of about 25,000 tonnes of carbon emitted through traditional coal-fired energy production.
“This is equivalent to taking over 3600 homes or a large suburb off of the electricity grid,” Mr Moxey said.
“The project is under construction, but when it goes live in late October or early November we expect that it can offset 100 per cent of our power consumption."
The farm will be entirely powered by manure, and used for applications as diverse as lighting, the pumping process and cooling the milk.
It will also create enough energy that Moxey farms will be able to sell the excess generated back into the market, creating an additional revenue stream.
The $20 million project was backed by global bank HSBC, which has a self-imposed mandate to invest around $US100 billion by 2025 into sustainable energy generation and lower-carbon technologies.
“We were excited by the idea, as we’re looking to support clients like Moxey farms and thrash out these ideas,” HSBC Australia’s head of commercial banking, Steve Hughes said.
Moxey Farms is also carrying out a nutrient-recovery process using the leftover material, pulling out up to 90 per cent of the phosphorous, as well as nitrogen, which can be re-sold as a natural fertiliser.
Mr Moxey said this recovery has also had one more bonus.
“From the dairy’s perspective it also eliminates some of the operation’s odour,” he said.
The process of approaching HSBC with the initial designs and concepts to loan approvals took around six months in total.
“It helps when clients already have the project fully scoped,” Mr Hughes said.