USDA grant supports bioenergy project at Tarleton's dairy center

By Tarleton State University | September 26, 2014

Texas A&M AgriLife Research has been awarded part of a nationwide $15.7 million Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to help fund a two-year program to demonstrate developing technologies for water purification, treatment and recycling and power generation using biomass at Tarleton State University’s Southwest Regional Dairy Center.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the awards, including a $357,472 grant to AgriLife Research scientist Sergio Capareda, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Texas A&M. Capareda will serve as the lead while working with Southwest Regional Dairy Center Director Hugo Ramirez and Tarleton students during the two-year project in Stephenville.

Texas A&M AgriLife is one of 47 organizations to receive a CIG, which will help develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation for eventual use by agricultural producers across the nation. The USDA-NRCS grants are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and will be matched by monies from participating partners AgriLife Research, Tarleton and Washington-based Global Restoration Inc.

More than $780,000 has been allocated for the two-year project, which aims to demonstrate a proven water treatment and recycling technology developed by Global Restoration and a biomass conversion system developed by Capareda and others at Texas A&M to produce electrical power.

Capareda says the technology demonstrations will convert dry manure produced by the milking herd at Tarleton’s dairy center into heat and electricity for on-site use. The project also plans to develop resource-conservation practices in handling wastewater and solids from animal manure at the facility while developing several spreadsheet-based monitoring systems.

“The Global Restoration group will take on the water coming out of the facility and the dairy’s lagoon, and purify the water so it may be recycled,” Capareda explained. “This generates large amounts of dry manure, which will be used by our system to generate heat and electrical power.”

Capareda has been developing the gasification system since the early 1980s. “Once we get the technologies perfected, then we will combine them and demonstrate their use at the dairy center at the end of the second year of the project,” he said. “We will be able to show that we can gasify dairy manure effectively and generate high-quality synthesis gas.”

Because sand is a common cow bedding material, the manure produced by herds is one of the more difficult biomasses to turn into fuels, Capareda says. “Sand mixes with the manure making it very poor for thermal conversion, so we have developed a system to improve the quality of the manure,” he added.

Tarleton’s dairy center will serve as a venue to test the two mobile technologies, and during the two-year project will serve as a host site to demonstrate their effectiveness for producers. It’s expected that several trainings and workshops will be organized during the project.

“Many animal farming operations have not been utilizing their manure effectively,” said Capareda. “They may compost it or return it to the land as nutrients. Our goal is to show producers that (manure) is a source of power generation and that these technologies can help dry and separate the sand from the manure.

“Once this is demonstrated, we hope many dairy farmers will be able to adopt the technologies and solve some of their water and wastewater problems,” Capareda said. “This whole program is about conservation and water recovery and limiting nutrient loadings for ponds.”

This could result in eliminating or reducing the size of open ponds, greater recycling and ultimately better revenue for the farmers.

Don Cawthon, dean of Tarleton’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said the project will aid the dairy center’s mission of helping solve environmental issues facing the dairy industry and other animal-based agricultural operations.

“One of the research focus points was to work on animal waste management and environmental challenges,” said Cawthon. “While we’ve been doing a lot of work in nutrient management and recycling at the dairy center, this is our first opportunity to bring in technology that will help us convert animal waste into renewable energy.

“Our hope is to develop infrastructure to find solutions, not just for the dairy industry, but for beef cattle feedlot operations and poultry operations,” Cawthon added. “Tarleton’s partnership with Texas A&M AgriLife has made this particular project possible, and we are committed to making all of our dairy-related resources available to help ensure project success.”

Cawthon said the grant will help bring Tarleton’s “original vision for the dairy center to fruition in that it will be able to serve as a solutions center” for animal waste management and bio energy recovery, while also providing solutions for producers. “That, in turn, helps improve sustainability of dairies and other animal-based operations, and helps improve sustainable food production practices, not just in the U.S. but beyond.”