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July 8, 2013

Cow waste drives biogas plant

The vision of a biogas plant on the 32,000-head Ranger Valley Cattle Station will improve the farm’s environmental footprint by turning cow waste into energy, and save money.

The beef cattle ranch currently spends roughly $800,000 on electricity and gas per year without maximising the value of the organic waste that comes from its huge heard, according to a report from energybusinessnews.com.au.

This will all change when they set up an on-site biogas power plant capable of producing enough energy to replace all of the farm’s current gas use and most of its electricity requirements, the report said.

The biogas system will cost into the millions to set-up but will pay for itself over the medium-term through saved energy costs.

The Rangers Valley Cattle Station is in Glen Innes (NSW) signed a deal with European company MT Energie to install the plant. This company has installed over 500 biogas power generation plants across the world.

rangers valley

Biogas is a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane and formed when bacteria break down organic material, in this case cattle waste, in a process called anaerobic digestion.

The cattle waste is put into large heated tanks where the chemical reaction occurs, allowing the gas to flow to the top of the tank where it can be collected, filtered and pressurised.

The gas can then be used to run a furnace that produces heat and power, unsurprisingly called a combined heat and power unit.

biogas plant germany
Above: Biogas plants similar to this one in Berthelsdorf Germany have the ability to turn wasted methane into a source of energy.

Inputs for biogas production are varied and include renewable resources like maize, grass or rye.  But biogas can also be gained from solid and liquid manure. Even organic waste, for which there is otherwise no use, can be used as an input for biogas.

The residue remaining after the gas production is a high-quality organic fertiliser that can be reapplied to fields.

This means the nutrient cycle on the farm is maintained with the added bonus of cheap renewable energy generation.

The decision to install a biogas plant at the Rangers Valley farm was also based on growing commercial pressures. The farm’s customers have started to ask about the cattle station’s environmental footprint.

It is no longer just a matter producing quality beef, Rangers Valley customers also need to know the station is run sustainably.

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