Ontario County Farm is Making the Most of Waste
A state-of-the-art system that converts manure to electricity at Lawnhurst Farms in Stanley is getting top mileage out of its power plant with food scraps.
The digester installed in 2013 at the dairy farm uses manure from its roughly 1,400 cows to generate electricity. Adding organic food waste — think scrap from a local yogurt plant and apple farm — now makes the process even sweeter.
The farm has also used food scraps from Rochester-area Wegmans stores in the technology called anaerobic digestion to make electricity.
“We generate twice what we need,” said Don Jensen II on Friday from the Jensens' fourth-generation farm on County Road 5.
The digester running at full capacity produces nearly 13,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day, or enough electricity to power 420 households per year. The electricity powers the 2,000-acre farm and five other family-owned facilities, including houses. Excess energy beyond that is sold to the local utility company.
“It’s an avoided cost, not having an electric bill,” Jensen said. Selling electricity to the grid also means Lawnhurst gets an annual payment.
Lawnhurst Farms runs one of more than 20 such digesters statewide, each of which produces more than 7,000 kilowatt-hours per day of renewable energy from cow manure as its primary source. The potential to increase the production of renewable energy in New York is significant, since the state has more than 600,000 dairy cows and every cow produces over 100 pounds of manure a day, according to Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
While this rich use of manure catches on at more farms, the addition of food waste to the process adds another benefit — for businesses and the environment.
Last week, Wegmans announced its stores in the Rochester area are sending food waste to two dairy farms to be turned into energy and useful byproducts, thanks to the technology. The partnership includes Wegmans, Lawnhurst Farms, Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, Livingston County, and Natural Upcycling, a hauling company that specializes in collecting food scraps that can be fuel for renewable sources of energy.
In 2014, Wegmans turned more than 2.5 million pounds of food scraps into clean, renewable energy, the company said in a release. One of its Buffalo stores is also piloting the program; four Syracuse stores will begin a pilot in May; and by early 2016, Wegmans hopes that 32 of its New York stores will be participating in this program.
The project of diverting food scraps away from landfills to compost or animal feed producers is already happening at other Wegmans stores, the company stated.
At participating Rochester-area Wegmans stores, employees in the bakery, produce, sub shop, cheese shop, coffee, floral and prepared foods departments put what’s headed for the “digester” into collection totes that roll on wheels. Into the totes go foods that can’t be donated, like coffee grounds, baked goods, fruit and vegetable peelings, and damaged produce. When full, the totes roll out to a loading dock. Natural Upcycling empties the totes onto the truck, sanitizes the totes with a power-washer system built into the truck so they can be reused at the store, and then heads to the next store. Once full, the truck heads to the “digester” at Noblehurst or Lawnhurst.
Jensen said Lawnhurst has not received Wegmans scraps for awhile and he hopes deliveries will resume. Organic food waste helps keep the farm’s digester running at full capacity, he said.
Lawnhurst accepts organic waste from Siggi’s Dairy Yogurt plant in Penn Yan, Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva and a few other sources.
In 2013, Lawnhurst Farms contracted with EnviTec Biogas USA Inc., a German-owned company, to design and construct the methane digester that would produce electricity from the manure of its 1,400 cows, along with other organic waste on and off its farm.
Wegmans Sustainability Manager Jason Wadsworth stated in a release that partnering in diverting food waste from landfills has multiple advantages.
“The process is easier, safer and more efficient for our people, it helps to reduce carbon emissions generated by landfills, helps farmers in our community achieve their sustainability goals, and creates a whole new business model for farmers and food waste haulers, adding jobs to our region,” he stated. “This is the very definition of sustainability and a project that the whole community can feel good about.”
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