Pig Poop Power Fuels Kluthe’s Passion
In the News
March 12, 2015
Danny Kluthe, a fourth-generation family farmer in eastern Nebraska, raises about 7,000 white hogs in six barns on his 280-acre Bacon Hill Farm near Dodge. That’s a lot of work, a lot of feed, and a lot of manure.
In fact, he estimates that depending on a hog’s size and diet, one animal produces two to 16 pounds of manure each day.
But the environmentally-minded Kluthe doesn’t let the waste go to waste. To help eliminate the odor that comes with a large hog operation and repurpose the poop, Kluthe installed an anaerobic digester on his farm in 2005 that separates methane gas from the manure and turns it into electricity.
Anaerobic digestion is a process whereby microorganisms from the manure are broken down in the absence of oxygen, and in turn produce gas. On Kluthe’s farm, gravity pulls the manure that collects under each barn down a slope into the digester where it sits for 21 days. One-fourth of one barn pit enters the digester daily.
“The digester is a living organism and has to be fed every day,” says Kluthe.
Methane is removed and used to generate electricity that’s sold to Cuming County Public Power District. It’s enough electricity to power 53 homes a year. Once the process is complete, the manure is piped down a hill into a polyethylene-lined lagoon.
“There’s no odor from that lagoon because the digester gets rid of it,” says Kluthe.
The end product from the lagoon is manure to fertilize his crops that he believes is higher quality, because being digested, the fertilizer is in a more available form for the crop to utilize.
Kluthe didn’t stop there, however. He learned how to compress the methane to fuel his converted farm tractors and pickup truck.
“My pickup runs 80 percent methane and 20 percent diesel and gets 70 miles to the gallon,” he says. “We run 90 percent methane in the tractors, and they just purr.”
When Kluthe first researched digesters and discovered they could eliminate odor, he was sold. But the fact that the digester could turn manure into renewable energy sources was something he’d dreamed about for a long time.
“We want to be a good neighbor and make this farm environmentally friendly. The digester has allowed us to do that,” said Kluthe, who received the State Environmental Stewardship Award from the Nebraska Pork Producers Association in 2012 and the National Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Pork Producers Association in 2013. “We’re reducing odor, we’re creating electricity and fuel, and we’re getting a better fertilizer.”
Kluthe’s is the only full-scale, functioning digester on a commercial livestock operation in Nebraska. And there are an estimated 239 operating on commercial livestock farms across the U.S.
Obtaining digester grants and awaiting government approvals took two-and-a-half years. The grants helped fund the half-million dollar project. Kluthe estimates it would take 15 years for the system to pay for itself through generating electricity, but when you add in cost savings on fuel for his tractor and truck, that time is reduced to five years.
Getting the digester up and running was a long process, and it wasn’t cheap, but to Kluthe it’s all worth it.
“This is something livestock producers need to take a look at,” he said. “From an environmental standpoint these digesters just make so much sense."