By Isaac Bonnell
Just six weeks after opening its first manure digester in Skagit County, the Mount Vernon-based company Farm Power is well on its way to opening a second facility, this time in Lynden.
The manure digester, which will cost upwards of $4 million to build, recently received more than $1.5 million in state and federal grants, said Kevin Maas, who owns Farm Power with his brother Daryl.
Farm Power is partnering with Mike Van Wingerden to build the project. Van Wingerden operates a 10-acre greenhouse and garden center in Blaine and has been planning to build more greenhouses for several years. Greenhouses are very expensive to heat, though, as much as $30,000 per acre per year.
That’s where Farm Power comes in. The digester takes the methane out of cow manure and burns it in a generator that produces enough electricity to power about 500 homes. It also generates a lot of heat, which Van Wingerden will use to heat his greenhouses.
“Getting heat from the generator is making it more affordable to do this project,” Van Wingerden said. “Without it we’d probably have a much smaller project.”
The process of taking heat from the generator to the greenhouses is actually quite simple, Maas said.
“Every digester in the state captures a lot of heat from the generator, but most of them send that heat to a radiator,” he said. “All we’re doing with the Lynden project using the same equipment to suck the heat out of the engine and store it in a water tank. Then we’ll pump hot water to the greenhouse when they need it.”
Van Wingerden will then pump the hot water, which will be about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, into the floor of the greenhouses. This type of radiant heating can keep the air temperature of the greenhouses around 65 F, he said.
Van Wingerden has already begun construction on 3.5 acres of greenhouses, but it will be several months before the digester is up and running. Besides getting the appropriate permits, Maas is also looking for a source of cow manure.
“We don’t have contracts with any farmers yet,” Maas said. But he’s not too concerned about that: “If you draw a five mile circle around there, there are a lot of cows.”