Norwell Dairy to partner with Toronto company for biogas facility

By the end of next year a new biogas facility could be up and running near Drayton, with possibly more projects of a similar nature to follow in Mapleton Township.

Ryan Little, vice president of business development for StormFisher Biogas, said the company is “on track” to have a plant operational by late 2009, although it has yet to file applications for municipal approval.

The total footprint of the pro­posed facility is expected to be about four acres, including a series of large storage tanks, an indoor loading building, and various green spaces.

It will be located on County Road 8, just southeast of Drayton, on land currently own­ed by Norwell Dairy Systems, which has partnered with StormFisher on the project.

Toronto-based StormFisher has plans to open two other biogas facilities next year in Port Colbourne and London, as well as another three in Ontario in 2010, and other projects throughout North America over the next five to ten years.

But the Drayton facility will be different.

“The Drayton plant is unique in that it will be the only one that produces natural gas,” Little said.

While the others will convert waste into electricity, the Drayton biogas facility will convert manure and food products into methane gas, and ultimately natural gas, which will be sold to utility provider Uni­on Gas Limited.

Little said the facility would be an ideal solution for local farmers who may have a large surplus of manure or those who want to increase herd sizes without acquiring more land.

He noted that the current formula is about one acre per cow, in terms of spreading man­ure, and he added Storm­Fisher will work one on one with farmers and accept manure on a case-by-case basis.

Manure, food scraps, and food processing by-products will be kept in huge storage tanks for about three weeks, enough time for the waste to undergo anaerobic digestion, the organic breakdown by micro-organisms in an oxygen-deprived environment.

The methane gas will be extracted, “cleaned up” and transformed into natural gas, and then sold to Union Gas, Little explained. He said the by-product of the digestion process – which can have several practical uses, including cat litter or bedding for farm animals – will be processed indoors.

And while everyone always asks him about the smell, Little insists anaerobic digestion eliminates a lot of the odour, so neighbours will not notice any sort of stink.

“These facilities are actually net odour reducers,” he said. “If you were walking around the perimeter of one of these plants you wouldn’t even know it was there.”

He noted that the technology comes from Germany, which has about 4,000 anaerobic digestion facilities, including many located directly adjacent to public buildings to which the plant provides direct power.

When asked why Storm­Fisher decided on Mapleton Township as a location, Little said it comes down to a simple calculation of supply and de­mand. There is a large farming base in the area, which means plenty of possible sources for manure and food processing by-products; and the township is located directly in an Ontario Power  Authority “orange zone,” which means there are significant hydro transmission constraints there, he explained.

Kerry Reibeling, after-market sales manager with Norwell Dairy Systems, agreed that Mapleton Township is well-suited for the biogas facility.

“Any time you can look at a green, alternative energy source it’s a good thing,” Reibeling said. He added that the idea is especially welcome considering the current era of constantly rising energy prices.

And while he acknowledged that rising prices for fertilizer have made manure a hot commodity, he said the facility could be very helpful for many local farmers.

Reibeling has already re­ceived several calls from farmers wanting to know how the process works, and he said Norwell Dairy’s main role in the partnership will be one of helping those farmers connect with StormFisher officials.

Little called Norwell Dairy Systems “a pillar of the community,” which he said makes the company perfect to fill that role.

So far, Little has found locals very interested in the pro­posed facility, particularly the many dairy farmers in the township, who, he said, are well versed on the benefits of anaerobic digestion.

“By and large the reception has been quite good,” he said.

Mapleton Mayor John Green said the township has yet to receive any applications from StormFisher.

He added that he had re­ceived one call from the company, wanting to arrange a meeting to discuss the project, but that has not yet occurred.

Green said provided the facility is environmentally friendly, protects neighbours from odours, and benefits local farmers, he would likely be in favour of it, but, “We have to know more about it.”

The mayor noted there has been some interest expressed by at least two other Mapleton farming operations in similar energy proposals, which would generate energy primarily for personal use on the farm and sell any excess energy back to the grid.