Press Republican: Suburban Propane, Adirondack Farms partner to bring renewable natural gas to the area
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BY CARLY NEWTON
PERU — The recent partnership between Suburban Propane Partners, L.P. and Adirondack Farms is bringing the future of dairy farming here to the North Country.
With the newly-formed partnership, Suburban Propane and Adirondack Farms will convert dairy manure from the farm into renewable natural gas (RNG) for local communities to consume.
“Being good stewards of the land…we’re taking what’s considered a bad thing and turning it into a good thing,” Jon Rulfs, co-owner of Adirondack Farms, said.
METHANE TO NATURAL GAS
Manure has long been known as a producer of greenhouse gas emissions like methane.
Through the use of an anaerobic digester, Adirondack Farms will soon be able to turn that methane gas into RNG and provide many benefits to both the farm and the environment.
“It’s very beneficial to the farm — it’s another revenue stream, it makes us more sustainable financially, and it’s also good for the environment,” Rulfs said.
“In today’s world, our only source of income is from milk and that has always been a challenge for dairy farms, so adding another revenue stream offers security.”
With the anaerobic digester, microorganisms inside the digester will break down the organic material to convert it into RNG and a nutrient-rich material called “digestate.”
RNG will then be delivered to the natural gas distribution system. The digestate is then separated even further to provide dry, soft materials used for cow bedding, as well as a natural fertilizer used in the fields to grow feed for the cows.
Suburban Propane, a “nationwide distributor of propane, renewable propane and related products and services, as well as a marketer of natural gas and electricity and investor in low carbon fuel alternatives,” sought out this partnership with Adirondack Farms as a part of its “Go Green Initiatives.”
President and CEO of Suburban Propane Michael Stivala said they contacted the local farm association about a year ago to express interest in getting into the renewable energy business.
“One of the things we were studying was the concept of digesters at dairy farms. We were introduced to Jon and Shane (St. Cyr), and felt as though the connection between our companies and cultures were perfect to collaborate on that,” Stivala said.
“The next step is to ultimately construct the digester that will do the work of converting manure into natural gas. That will probably take the better part of the next 18-24 months, and then at that point, we will be producing natural gas and distributing it to local communities.”
USING EVERY LITTLE BIT
Mike Contessa, vice-president at Champlain Valley Agronomics, said Adirondack Farms has been doing a similar, smaller-scale operation since 2017.
“Right now, the (methane) gas is used to fuel a generator, and that generator runs 24/7. It puts about 600 KWh onto the NYSEG lines for consumption here locally. We’re transitioning from that, so instead of running a generator, that will be compressed and put on a truck…and it will be sent to an injection point,” Contessa said.
“That will be consumed by folks in that region — directly consumed by households, businesses, so on and so forth but also contributes to the reduction of methane in the atmosphere.”
Contessa said they will use “every little bit” of the manure to ensure there is no waste leftover.
“Historically, everybody has looked at manure as this waste product, and farmers and agribusinesses always knew there was value in the nutrients,” he said.
“We come into a year like this, where everything costs more, including the fertilizer we have to purchase to grow the crops, and so the manure really stands out as a huge value, because it’s got nutrients that, if managed correctly — the right timing, the right rates, the right method of application — and we do it in an environmentally sound manner, we don’t have to import inorganic sources of nutrients.
“It’s catching on more throughout the country.”