Southern Alberta farmers, Chris and Harold Perry, take the power of science and sustainable farm practices very seriously.
Their 2020 vision is to reduce farm inputs such as water, fuel, electricity and synthetic fertilizer by 20 per cent, while increasing net yields by 20 per cent. They began to implement that vision in 2011 and the recent commissioning of their new anaerobic digesters for the production of biogas as fuel to drive an engine connected to a power turbine is a major piece of the puzzle.
In November, they commissioned a $7.1-million anaerobic digester installation on their farm near Chin, Alta. that will continuously generate biogas as fuel to produce about 630 kilowatts (kWs) of green power. The two digesters will process about 25,000 tonnes of organic waste annually, which will include at least 13,000 tonnes of open-pen feedlot manure.
KCL Cattle, located near Coaldale is a major supplier of raw manure to the installation. Les Wall, KCL Cattle Company owner is cautiously optimistic about the chances of the renewable power installation working as advertised but strongly supports the overall concept.
“I think it’s a win-win for both parties,” he says. “It makes you feel good to promote some green energy, they are making good use of our manure, and they are generating energy which helps to run their farms while they sell the excess. I’m pretty happy to be a partner with them. They are good people, and I am pretty excited to see where it will all grow.”
As part of the Perrys’ licence to operate with the Alberta government, at least 50 per cent of the raw feedstock fed into the digester must be feedlot manure. At the present time, it is much higher than that.
The production of renewable power from biogas and diverting manure from the nearby KCL Cattle Company and Kasko Cattle Company feedlots will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by over 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
The anaerobic digester system and renewable power facility is owned by a company called GrowTEC Ltd., which is a division of Perry Produce Ltd. Chris Perry is the company’s co-founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO). The name GrowTEC is an acronym for “Grow the Energy Circle Ltd.”
Chris Perry says that the goal is for the anaerobic digestion system to produce enough income from the sale of renewable power so that the farm operation is essentially, “off the grid.”
Seth Clark, GrowTEC’s Biogas Facility production manager, says the location of the biogas energy system is ideal.
“Here in southern Alberta, we have a number of feedlots that are manure rich and land poor,” he says. “There’s lots of manure out there, and in some cases, there is more manure than the producers can actually apply to their land base.”
The Perry family has a history of innovation and stewardship that spans four generations. Today, they operate a diverse farm comprising 4,000 acres of irrigated land producing potatoes, sunflowers, green peas, seed canola and a range of cereals for clients such as Frito Lay, McCain Foods, Lucerne Foods, Hytech Production, and Spitz.
In addition to the production of renewable power from biogas, the Perry operation also generates 105 kWs of geothermal power for use in both cooling and heating of their potato storage operation, and 20 kWs of solar power.
“The Perrys are very progressive farmers,” says Clark. “They really see themselves as stewards of their land. For instance, they were composting manure for quite some time prior to even considering the anaerobic digester just as a way to reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizers they needed for their land.”
The manure used in the composting program will not be disrupted by redirecting that manure to the anaerobic digesters. That operation will continue as before. In recent years, the Perrys have been manufacturing about 7,500 tonnes of compost from raw manure gathered from area feedlots.
“We wanted to try compost because that is the natural way that things work,” says Harold Perry. “When the buffalo were here, they ate and manured the grass at the same time, and that’s how the natural cycle worked. Fertilizer prices have also helped because compost makes sense if you strictly go by dollars. The cost of putting the amount of nutrients you put on your soil using compost is less than if you were to purchase that at a fertilizer dealership.”
The food companies that the Perrys supply have very high-quality standards and previously, all potatoes that didn’t make the grade were sent to area feedlots for animal feed or spread back on the land, which involved a fair amount of trucking and transportation. Now they are diverted as feedstock to the digesters.
“Potatoes are a very good feedstock for an anaerobic digester, so it got the Perry family thinking about how they could utilize this waste material and add some value to it,” says Clark.
Originally, the plan was to only use potatoes as the digester feedstock, but it was necessary to include manure for the active microbes present in it. Capturing the biogas from digesting these two waste streams will reduce transportation costs and create value-added products — biogas for fuel to produce renewable power and high-nutrient organic fertilizer in both liquid and solid form as byproducts from the digesters.
A major supporter of the GrowTEC renewable energy project was Alberta’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC), which provided over $3.5 million toward the project. Clark says the project would not have been economically feasible without CCEMC’s support. CCEMC is an independent organization created by the Alberta government to channel funds collected from large greenhouse gas emitters toward projects that will help the province reach its GHG emission reduction targets.
“With current energy prices and market the way it is for electricity in this province, it is very difficult to justify putting a project like this together, purely on the economics,” says Clark.
Construction began in August 2013, with completion about one year later. The facility was fully operational in late November 2014.