Power from dairies envisioned

A Bakersfield attorney and third-generation dairy farmer Monday announced the formation of a "waste-to-energy" company that will work with farmers and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to turn cow manure into natural gas.

Meanwhile, a Palo Alto-based biotechnology company and two Visalia-based dairy technology companies also announced plans Monday to build a separate facility that would generate energy from dairy waste to power a new ethanol plant in the San Joaquin Valley.

The news of the first operation from David Albers, who has a dairy in Fresno County, came in Tulare on the grounds of the World Ag Expo, which begins its three-day run today.

Albers, president of BioEnergy Solutions, said his company reached an agreement with PG&E to provide natural gas created from animal waste and other renewable sources to the state's largest electricity provider.

PG&E will use the natural gas from BioEnergy Solutions to deliver renewable electricity to its customers in central and northern California. Albers said. BioEnergy, based in Bakersfield, is expected to break ground on the project in the spring at Albers' Vintage Dairy in Riverdale and begin delivering renewable natural gas to PG&E in the summer.

Under the agreement, BioEnergy will deliver up to 3 billion cubic feet of renewable natural gas a year to PG&E, enough to meet the electricity needs of about 50,000 California homes.

Last November, another company, Microgy Inc., a subsidiary of Environmental Power Corp. in Portsmouth, N.H., announced that it would be working with six large dairies in the Valley to turn cow manure into natural gas.

BioEnergy will compete with Microgy, Albers said, adding that he believes his company offers greater flexibility to dairy operators because it is open to various technologies.

BioEnergy is owned by American Dairy Parks, which works with dairy operators to create "vertical integration" from farming crops, producing milk, processing it and, now, putting in waste-to-energy systems.

Albers, who has an exhibit at Dairy Pavilion No. 6221, said farmers can benefit from such systems: "This agreement turns what would otherwise be a growing problem for farmers into a new revenue source and helps PG&E reach the environmental goals set by the company and the state."

Albers is a Bakersfield lawyer who has represented various dairy operators in litigation that has surrounded their efforts to locate in the central San Joaquin Valley. He is currently representing a dairy operator who wants to put two dairies on land west of Earlimart. That effort has drawn criticism from some who say they fear dust, odor and flies will foul the tiny town of Allensworth, a site dedicated to California black history.

BioEnergy Solutions designs, builds and maintains the waste-to-gas system on the farm or at a processing facility, then sells the natural gas to power generators. Property owners will share in the sales of biogas and carbon credits.

"BioEnergy Solutions was founded by dairymen, and we understand the challenges agriculture faces in the coming years to reduce emissions," Albers said.

At the Vintage Dairy, manure from the farm's 3,000 dairy cows will be flushed into covered lagoons that will trap the methane gas produced as the manure decomposes. The methane will be "scrubbed" to remove carbon dioxide and corrosive materials to meet PG&E standards for power plants, then delivered to PG&E through the utility's pipeline and used to produce renewable energy.

A Web site is under construction at

In the second waste-to-energy system, Palo Alto-based Human BioSystems announced that its subsidiary, Fresno-based HBS BioEnergy, has formed a venture with Visalia-based Dairy Development Group and Agrimass Enviro-Energy to build its facilities.

"The joint venture involves developing and operating an innovative agricultural waste-to-energy park," Len Chapman, chief executive of the two Visalia-based companies, said in a prepared statement.

"This is the perfect model for agricultural production because it takes a problem -- manure -- and turns it into power, which then powers the ethanol plant that produces cleaner-burning fuels," Chapman stated.

The companies involved did not disclose where they plan to build the facilities, when construction might start or how much the project was expected to cost.

Nancy Lockwood, a public relations representative for the two Visalia-based companies, said the companies have not yet filed initial paperwork with any regulatory agencies for the project.

Claude Luster, president of HBS BioEnergy, said in a prepared statement that the proposed facilities would also help dairies tackle water-quality and air-emissions concerns.

The combination of a dairy waste power generation facility and an ethanol plant may be the first such integrated project ever proposed, he added.