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July 03, 2007


brian hans

Closed loop = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_ecological_system

I get frustrated when I read 'closed loop' for a system like this. Its obviously not a closed loop; Feed is coming in, air is being exchanged (with CH4 being formed from the cows) and ethanol/milk/cheeze/etc are going out. This is NOT a closed loop by any stretch of the imagination, PERIOD.

Certainly I applaud the idea of tightening up the cycles (which is the term I would use in this case) but what is not mentioned is the amount of land being used, which for 26k head would be gigantic. There is also no mention of the CH4 being produced in the guts of the cow which is another elephant in the room that no one talks about.

--doesn't contribute to global warming and actually reduces air and water pollution--

It reduces fossil fuel use, I'll give you that.

But the rest seems more like a marketing slogan than reality.

The real catch is what about N2O from the fertilizer, and Carbon exposure from the soils. (And soil fertility)

I can hazard to guess that they aren't using no-till + organic farming.

Whats more Nebraska specifically, they use irrigation. That requires sigificantly more energy. Coal Energy.

Greg Nate

Brian Hans: I don't understand your problem with this. It is not like they are creating a dairy far just to produce ethanol. The cows are already there. This is a win-win.

Roy Wasson

What is meant by "fueled largely by biogas from animal waste"? Is the thin stillage the rest of the fuel, or what?

I think this plant is commendable for reducing the fossil fuel input over a traditional ethanol plant. It also makes use of some of the energy from the methane the manure would be spewing into the atmosphere wastefully otherwise.

Warren Crothers

This is surely a step in the right direction. The improvements seem to take us to higher levels of efficency each month. I have nothing but positive remarks for the progress this company has made -- and I am sure it will not stop here.


Anaerobically fermented cow slurry apparently makes excellent liquid fertilizer, which is another way in which this system will reduce the overall operational costs of the farm and make the cycle tighter (if not closed)

It is a shame they can't make biodiesel, as this could be used to fuel the tractors.

Also, anaerobically digesting cow slurry and then burning the methane turns that methane into Co2, which is far less potent a greenhouse gas. Now if only they would pump that Co2 through some algae biofuel reactors, that would be cool!


Kit P.

Anaerobic digesters are very efficient at processing nutrients in manure into organic fertilizer. This is a huge environmental win, even if the energy is not used, just based on the energy savings in reduced needs for fertilizer.


I like the part about turning manure into biogas. Lord knows, they need something like that in the hog farming industry. Right now, they have more hog waste than they know what to do with. Barbeque spare ribs and electricity too, cool...


This operation is right on target for greatly improving an existing process. Who cares if it's not a perfect "closed cycle" or how many farts the cows crack off a day? The cows were doing it anyway and now the overall process is cleaner, energy is being produced and money is being made. Good for them. Good for us. JohnBo

brian hans

I agree its a great efficiency on existing systems.

JohnBo- I care about terminology, even if you dont. Would you care if I called ethanol biodiesel? Or refered to transesterification as 'cracking'? Terminology matters, especially on a technical site like this.
AND...your reference to who cares how much cows fart is well off the mark. You should ABSOLUTELY care about methane production which is an issue with animal farming. CH4 is much more an issue and is growing by the day thru certian types of agri-business like dairy farming, rice production and agri-water management. Are the cows already making CH4 in their gut? yes. But understand that a dairy cow produces great amounts of CH4 and that more cows = more CH4.

Will and Kit mentioned that AD effluent is an 'excellent fertilizer'. Because of AD systems; NOx is lost into the ATM, and P,K, etc. are lost to the 'solids'. In essence, AD is a loss of fertility to the soil over land dressing manure. If AD effluent is an excellent fertilizer...manure is leaps above. Yes, you dont get energy (and bedding) from landdressing but make sure we understand the above concept before jumping to the word 'excellent'.

I would echo Grey's statements also. Im not trying to throw cold water on AD, Im trying to make sure that accurate information is being brought forth. I think AD is a good alternative to nothing. But if it means that more and more land is gobbled up to feed more and more cows that make more and more CH4...yes I do have a problem with that trend, as should everyone. Soil fertility, top soil loss, nutrient loading, CH4 production, Animal cruelty, sterility and antibiotic issues...and on and on and on, there are many issues to be faced by the sort of production that E3 is talking about. AD is a step in the right direction but its not a solution to the many above issues.

Lastly...I have a problem with systems that buy Propane or NG to heat/power the system and sells 'clean green gas' for a larger amount. I dont know if E3 is doing this but I have yet to meet a major AD system that didnt pull that kinda cr@p.

Thomas Marihart

I'd be curious how much of their feed they grow and on how many acres?

Feed crops typically used by Feedlots and Dairies tend to sequester Carbon, although scant data seems to be available on it. Plenty of sequestering data is available for govt/academia sponsored 'conservation tillage/no-till' programs, but little baseline 'normal tillage' data is released as a baseline reference. Funny thing about that.

Many Dairy/feedlot operators grow some of their own feed and use manure to offset the use of natural gas derived fertilizer like NH3 (anhydrous ammonia), that would otherwise be used on conventional farms without nearby Dairies or feedlots.

This practice, when the renewable nutrients/fertilizer are spread at agronomic rates, generate significant unrecognized Methane/Carbon offsets, yet they are not identified as such by the environmental community and regulators at large. They ARE content, though, to more than point out pre-existing 'liabilities' like VOCs, Methane emissions from lagoons, Burps n Farts and fermentation emissions from silage.

If you have even HALF a brain, you don't count one without the other because you create a distorted environmental view (DEV) of the closed or semi closed loop and its TRUE impact on the environment and our demand for conventional fossil fuels like natural gas (and its consequent emissions profile from well to end user).

1000 acres receiving ~150lbs/acre year of manure based fertilizer instead of an equivalent amount of NH3, for example, is actually offsetting considerable amounts of natural gas use.

150lbs x 1000 = 150,000lbs/year = 75 tons of fertilizer equivalent. NH3 is about ~80% natural gas, a core component in its manufacture (not counting emissions from the manufacturing process of NH3, FYI).

75 tons x .8 = ~60 tons of methane offsets/1000 acres using manure products instead of fertilizer.

Carbon ton equivalents? 60 x 18 = 1080 TONS of Carbon/year per 1000 acres (at a measly 150lbs/acre year application rate, higher for CORN).

I'm sure someone will also start whining about water pollution so reference the 2 key words above "agronomic rates" of application, since this is what most users of manure products are doing today.

Most salt/nitrate leaching (80%) BTW comes from over application of fertilizers put on as 'added insurance' for crop yield on farmland. Much of this type of activity is indistinguishable from what is being 'blamed' on nearby dairies and feedlots, FYI.

We are seriously under-counting the renewable resources created when, (dare I use the acronym) "CAFOs" are created or expanded.

Only the negatives are emphasized, and this is a deliberate and substantial disservice to the environment, the fossil fuel addicted economy and our society.

Steps off of soapbox...

Have a good week all.

Reality Czech

Advocates of AD effluent as fertilizer need to account for the transport requirements of the effluent, the usable amount of effluent on the land within transport distance, and the uptake of nutrients by land across a full year and in various weather conditions.  If the effluent is generated in such huge quantities that it cannot all be used within the distance it can be transported, the benefit is lost; if it is sprayed onto snow and runs off with the spring melt, it is just as polluting as any other form of loss.

AD effluent has much more bulk and weight than dry fertilizer or NH3.  There is almost certainly a limit to what size of CAFO can recycle its waste effectively.

Don B.

I attended a March, 2007 Gov't/Commercial/University Level Biofuels conference in Lansing, MI. A lot of good Industrial-grade recycling of Waste Biomass into fuelgas and electricity. Although it wasn't officially on the program,a third byproduct discussed at the meetings was a sybiotic relationship with an Ethanol plant. Where the waste product from one plant becomes a feedstock for the other.
If everyone quits buying hamburger and milk, then you will get rid of CAFO's....until then they are here!
I do not agree with our current Ethanol Policy, corn is not a sustainable feedstock for Ethanol production (for ANY scale)! Sweet sorghum at the very minimum for yield per acre. Cellulostic ethanol is rapidly becomming a reality.... going commercial soon!
This process can reduce carbon emissions, help alleviate/eliminate animal waste run-offs, lower the imbedded energy costs to producing ethanol, produce 99% E-Coli free liquid slurry for high nitrogen value, high root up-take fertilizer,...and create a few jobs.... all over America! This is big in Europe right now; and for the foreseeable future.

Don B.


I quit buying milk a long time ago, and beef after Mad Cow hit the news.

I think the point Reality Czech was making is that smaller operations can recycle their nutrients much more easily than big ones.  If we ever internalize the costs of e.g. dead zones in the Gulf, CAFO's will be history.

Kit P.

The Clean Water Act regulates CAFO in the US. Water is not being polluted but odor is still a problem

Animal and plant waste must be mineralized before it can be used to grow food. This is the role that bacteria play in nature. Anaerobic digesters allow the process to be carefully controlled to optimize nutrient recovery. The same bacteria that break down manure in a field are grown in anaerobic digesters. NOx is not produced but a small fraction of nutrients are lost as N2 gas.

The main benefit of anaerobic digesters is odor reduction and energy recovery.

One last point, small operations are not less polluting just less regulated.


If water pollution from CAFO's is not a problem, why are there moves to further regulate their waste lagoons to prevent overflows?

Anaerobic digesters appear to yield most of their nitrogen as ammonia.  Ammonia yields N2O when it is applied to soil; how much depends on the conditions.  The USDA indicates that over-application (which is likely if the effluent can't be shipped economically, and would have to be applied more heavily) produces more N2O.

Small operations have inherently smaller transport requirements.  A lot with a quarter of the waste needs to move it only half the distance to achieve the same per–acre level of application.


Burning biogas from CAFO waste is adding to the waste originally created by feeding oil based corn to unhealthy cattle.

Stop CAFO, stop oil based agriculture, and stop eating chem meat and milk.

Use manure and farm waste from local organic family farms to produce distributed renewable backup power. A farm with wind machines, solar panels on buildings, and biogas fuel cell backup power can make more family income from selling energy than producing food.

And the organic soil amendment/fertilizer from the biogas digestor will make oil based fertilizer unecessary.

With these changes farmers can afford to go for quality instead of try in vain to compete with commodity chemical ag corporations who hire illegal workers. local people buying local food supporting organic family energy farms. that's the small business model to go for.

That's an economy and earth restoring plan that could also reinvigorate our democracy. By liberating US all from the clutches of corporate bottomline corruption. How many times must poisonous food get in the news for this re-evoltion of energy and agriculture to happen?

They still feed blood meal from cows to calves!! And chicken manure to cows in CAFO hell.

Wouldn't you rather eat bison burgers from healthy grass fed, free roaming, happy animals? A Prarie National Park (huge bison herds roaming again)and wind farm could replace a lot of CAFO poison disguised as food.


Hi Brian, there is no isolated closed loop system on earth. Even the earth is not closed loop. To get a closed loop system by your definition you would have to include the universe... oops I think even a closed loop universe is controversial. Ha-ha. Just relax a little with the purity doctrine.

Amazingdrx is fun to read as he hates success, especially successful corporations. Amazing what business model do you propose in place of publicly open corporations? Maybe you prefer the 13th century monarchs’ way of doing business?

I love you guys. Really I do. I just have a more optimistic view point. JohnBo

Kit P.

The several dozen CAFO dairy farms that I have inspected are clearly the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways to produce milk. The owners all live on the properties and had deep respect for the environment. Pampered is the best way to describe how the cows were treated. I have great respect for these dairy farmers.

Anaerobic digesters are the best technology for treating animal waste. This is why all large municipal WWTF use them for treating large concentration of human waste. Ammonia is toxic to bacteria in high concentration. This is why anaerobic digesters must be properly managed. Nitrogen is removed by growing beneficial bacteria which are easily removed as solids. This filtered water can then be reused to flush the manure from a properly designed feedlot. These dried solids make excellent fertilizer because the ammonia is not released to the plant roots until some larger animal like a worm eats the bacteria.

In other words, anaerobic digesters provide a huge reduction in ghg including N2O along with many other environmental benefits. This link may help:

The Mead facility is classic Industrial Ecology. Ten years ago when I was working on my masters in Environmental Engineering no US examples were available as a reference in text books. Industrial Ecology uses natural analogs to design human industrial systems to be sustainable.

Armand rousso

Ethanol is the next trend a bankable area where Venture capital are putting their hand. Armand Rousso

Armand rousso

I just ad for people interested : The world's leading ethanol trade
publication and website is available at EthanolProducer.com . Armand Rousso


Thank you Mr Armand Rousso for this website.

Don B.

I've talked with some of the Indian (INDIA) engineers where I work, about Gobar gas. Gobar is their name for SH_T. Anyway, this is a technology that has been in practice for many years in that part of the world. There are several designs, most are like a pit or lagoon and many are continous feed. I would be REAL surprised to find a CAFO operation in a country like India. Moral of this paragraph is: it can make sense on a much smaller scale too.
Yesterday, I watched "America's Dirtiest Jobs" where Mike had to work on a dairy farm that had de-composable flower pots as a by-product of the digester...he gets $.50 each for them. They showed something of a homemade gas collector and a plastic-lined lagoon for the liquids (nitrogen for his fields); the solids were recycled into "Cow Pots".
Some companies are looking at recycling the solids from anerobic digesters; these items include: particle board, bedding for the cows (VS sand), mulch...and new items everyday.
Agri-business is a big business with a lot of clout in Congress (just look at the flawed Ethanol policy that got pushed thru)! Is it more realistic to wish them away, ban CAFO's,...OR help the farmers with modern technology to alleviate odors, H2O pollution, CO emissions, and nitrogen cycling....all the while, giving the farmer another product he can take to Market...Renewable Energy.
Agrifuels are not going to replace fossil HC's overnight, nor even in the long-term. Properly managed, Sustainable crops will provide some relief, until the next fuel (energy) of choice gains widespread acceptance. The symbiotic relationship between the dairy farmer and the ethanol distiller is a step in the right direction, especially when you look at the current state of Biofuel affairs.

Don B


Good points all, Don.


This system is the future. Increases in methane gases globally are caused by all CAFO operations which have not yet changed design attitudes in waste disposal techniques in over 100 years . CAFO owners, employees and civic officials, must respond with immediate action toward harnessing cause , threat and effect to all our health. It is quite obvious and apparant which comments are posted by CAFO affiliates. Their verbal acidity is only matched by the glands deadened in their noses . Those who will not accept scientific facts, collected for some time now, have become detrimental to all our health and future energy production wherein can be, a win win situation. I've made reports from the East Coast to Middle America for over 35 years . NASA , EPA, FEMA AGI and NOAA with whom my Uncle was one of the nine founding scientists, have collected data and real-time mechanisms which clearly document increases in pollution levels visually. The increase in airbourne particulate matter upon which is attracted methane molecules can be seen through special wavelength remote sensors called sniffers from not only satellites but those roadside by highway weigh stations.

If State , County or local Zoning and Boards of Health do not start to control the precedents they themselves set and called "law", because of these precident collusions with CAFO's will result in federal controls through remote sensing. This has already begun and those responsible will be eventually held to account not only by nature herself but those who have been warned of the coming storm .

All scientists who connect with methane production know there really isn't such a thing as a "totally closed loop system". It is recognized as a matter of simple semantics to enlighten those who cannot comprehend an otherwise complex picture.Even the earth receives replenishment of its waters in oceans, rivers, streams and clouds from giant snowballs which have been hitting our globe for billions of years, its how we got our oceans. The earth is not a closed looped system. If any closed loop exists, it's between the ears of those who refuse to listen and do not accept truth.

Harry A. Jordan


Actually this is good method to reduce the global warming as the fart of cows contains methane with various other VOCs which are very harmful gas of green house effect. Moreover, there is production of efficient fuel.


Brian Hans, you contradict yourself in your comment above.
"..P, K etc. are lost to the solids..."
"Soil fertility, top soil loss, nutrient loading,. . . "
Which would you rather? The P being 'lost' in the solids through AD or the nutrient loading? Because if you don't take the nutrients out of that land dressed manure, you are most certainly going to load the soil. Actually, this facility would be required to carry a CNMP, which in Nebraska would be P based. So, most likely, their potential to have P run off is lessened with this type of system.
To comment on this:
"...CH4 production, Animal cruelty, sterility and antibiotic issues...and on and on and on, there are many issues to be faced by the sort of production that E3 is talking about...."
It doesn't sound like E3 wants to build 15 more feedlots just to put in this system and produce ethanol. If you look over the Midwest, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and some parts of the Southeast- these farms and ranches are already there. It sounds like this company is trying to make use of waste from several different systems and to turn a profit in the process.
Also, you (and others) might want to check out a paper in the Journal of Animal Science (author- Roger Cady, et al) that discusses the C footprint of dairy farms. We're not talking about more and more cows and more and more land and so on. We actually feed the majority of the world on fewer cows AND fewer acres than we did 60 years ago. That's primarily because of companies and individuals like these who come up with innovative ideas.
You make valid points and your concerns are shared by many folks, but give some credit where it's due.

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