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CIG Projects in the PIA: Sustainable, Self-Sufficient Electricity

Sustainable, Self-Sufficient Electricity Generation for Small Farms

Grantee: Friendly Aquaponics, LLC

Abstract:
This project adapts existing, proven technology from large, expensive methane-powered farm electric generation systems (50 to 2,500 kW in size) to create an affordable system (5 to 20 kW in size) for smaller farms that will run from a variety of farm wastes. The technology for these systems is well-developed: 136 existing methane-powered dairies and farms are generating their own electricity in the 50 kW-and-over size range in the United States, according to the EPA's AgStar website. Such systems cost from $300,000 up to $5.6 million, and are beyond the average small farm's ability to purchase or operate (cost data from individual farm's websites and media articles). The problems the project addresses with this grant application are:

  • Existing systems have capacities of 50 to 2,500 kilowatts (kW), are too large for the average small farm needing only a few kW to operate, and are too costly for the average farmer. The goal of the project is to develop a system that can be built for between $25,-75,000 including equipment, materials, labor, permits and engineering.
  • 96% of existing systems operate on dairy waste, with only a few operating on swine waste or poultry waste, and none operating on vegetable waste or a mix of wastes, thus there is no information about established operating procedures available for a farm that has a variety of waste to use.
  • These large systems are commonly designed by large engineering firms and implemented by commercial contractors who are often not interested in small, affordable projects because they have the complexity of a large project but lack the potential profit. This lack of market incentives has kept information on small, affordable systems from being readily available or accessible to the small farmer.
The project's innovations to this existing technology are:

The project's innovations make it possible for a wider range of farms to use this technology. The project will adapt current technology to supply 10 kW of electrical service (prime power rating). This system is easily scalable from between five to 20 kW, making it usable and affordable by most small-to-medium size farms.

  • The small size and relative affordability of this system.
  • The presentation of the information necessary for farmers to build their own such systems (with minimal or no professional assistance) in an easy-to-use format.
  • The data it will supply on using varied waste sources for methane generation. This allows farmers with a range of waste inputs available to utilize these systems, not just farmers with a large amount of cow or swine waste.