Tulare County dairies join first of its kind renewable energy project

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Maas Energy Works and Calgren say their project is the first of its kind in California. It is called a pipeline dairy digester cluster.

Work is already underway on the pipeline, which will eventually connect 11 dairies in the Pixley area with Calgren, a renewable fuel company off Highway 99. Digesters will be installed at the dairies, capturing methane emitted from the dairy's manure lagoons and delivering the gas, via the pipeline, to Calgren, which will turn it into renewable energy.

"As part of this project, we'll clean up the biogas to varying degrees so it can be used as fuel," said Calgren CEO Lyle Schlyer. "Some of the fuel will be used as thermal energy in the production of our low carbon fuel ethanol."

At dairies, wastewater is recycled to irrigate the crops that feed the cows, and the cows' waste is used to grow those crops and make bedding for them. The problem is that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is released in the storage process, and most dairy farmers don't have the money or time for a dairy digester.

But the digesters in this project will come at no cost to the farmers who signed up.

"We want the dairies to stay in business," said Tim Olson, with the California Energy Commission. "We know there are challenges related to the emissions of methane and that these programs you're seeing created are meant to help capture that and also keep the dairies in business."

"We started laying out this project on our farm, it was almost like it was meant to be," said Tulare County dairy farmer Joey Airoso.

Airoso's family has been milking cows in Tulare County for more than a century. He says connecting to the pipeline will let him continue that tradition, have cleaner water, and cut his methane emissions.

"It's going to be a great example of what agriculture can do and dairy farmers can do to not only protect the environment but also continue to feed the world like we do," Airoso said.

The dairy digester pipeline may be the first in the state, but everyone involved hopes it's just one of many clusters to come.

The project is expected to be online next year.
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