CASCO, Wis. – “We’re looking to become carbon-neutral,” says Lee Kinnard of Kinnard Farms. “We’re big no-tillers, we plant cover crops and with our new digester we’re getting closer.”

An anaerobic digester system at the 7,500-cow Casco-area farm recently began converting manure to renewable natural gas. The gas produced at the farm will be used for fuel in compressed natural-gas-powered vehicles.

“It will be injected into a natural-gas pipeline in Wisconsin and transported to California for use,” said Kevin Dobson, vice-president of business development for DTE Biomass Energy. “Renewable natural-gas-based vehicles are cleaner and more efficient than the gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles they replace. We estimate the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from renewable natural-gas production at Kinnard Farms is equivalent to removing more than 11,000 passenger vehicles from the road each year.”

DTE Biomass Energy specializes in renewable-energy projects around the country. It owns and operates more than 20 landfill gas-to-energy projects as well as seven dairy-farm-based renewable-energy projects. Six of those projects are currently operating in Wisconsin; the seventh facility is scheduled to start this summer.

Kinnard Farms is the third such installation in Wisconsin’s Kewaunee County. Dairy Dreams of Casco and Pagel’s Ponderosa of Kewaunee also are producing renewable natural gas.

“We expect renewable natural-gas production of more than 150,000 million (British Thermal Units) per year at Kewaunee Renewable Energy, which is a subsidiary of DTE Biomass Energy,” Dobson said.

Kinnard said he was attracted to the system because it can remove 100 percent of water from manure. That results in a dry-pellet form that can be used as fertilizer.

“Water removal is economically viable; that’s another one of the benefits,” he said. “We wanted the system to stand on its own feet. It must be profitable.”

The anaerobic digester system is completely sealed, which subsequently reduces odor.

“There’s been a noticeable decrease in odor and that’s a big deal to me because I live on the farm,” he said.

Bryan Pagel of Pagel’s Ponderosa also said reduced odor was a benefit of the system. The process kills bacteria and pathogens, he said. That enables the farm to use the resulting dry and sterilized biosolids to be used as cattle bedding. The 4,800-milking-cow farm has had in place for about a year the digester and renewable natural-gas system.

Compressed renewable gas produced at Pagel’s Ponderosa is delivered to DTE Biomass Energy’s renewable natural-gas-processing and interstate injection facility in Newton, Wisconsin. From there the gas is injected into an interstate pipeline.

The Newton facility began operation in September 2019. It’s located relatively close to the dairy farms and is well-positioned for growth of future dairy projects, Dobson said. In addition to the three farms in Kewaunee County, DTE Biomass has partnered with Maple Leaf Dairy Inc. in Cleveland, Wisconsin, and Grotegut Dairy Farm Inc. in Newton, Wisconsin.

The partnerships provide farms a way to handle cow manure. Instead of gas from manure escaping into the atmosphere it’s refined to meet natural-gas specifications.

“We provide financial compensation, which gives farmers another revenue stream,” Dobson said.

A dairy-farm partner will typically need to have at least 5,000 milking cows for a project to be economically viable, he said. But smaller-sized dairy farms near enough to each other could enable the company to build a renewable natural-gas facility that would service multiple farms.

“That would enable us to work with farms having between 3,000 and 5,000 cows,” he said.

Renewable natural-gas projects also bring jobs to the community both directly – with people needed to operate the facility – and indirectly – with people providing logistics and materials.

“The market for dairy-based renewable natural gas continues to grow,” Dobson said. “It’s an important part of the overall de-carbonization of transportation fuels.”

Kinnard said, “We’re big believers that the dairy industry can lead the way to being carbon-neutral.”

Visit kinnardfarms.com and dteenergy.com for more information.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.