Brothers Chris and Harold Perry are determined that their 3,500 acre family farm near Coaldale, Alta. will grow more than just crops.
The Perrys are collaborating on a project to build an anaerobic digester at CKPPQ Farms which will turn agricultural waste into renewable biogas. Their goal is to create a sustainable, on-farm energy system that provides all the power needs of the farm and can sell excess power back to the grid. Environmental stewardship and sustainability are not just buzz words to the Perry brothers; they are words to live by. Harold has already adapted two of the farm’s tractors to sequester exhaust emissions.
In 2001, they attended an alternative energy conference with the intent of looking into renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power. Instead, they came away with an idea to solve a major waste problem on the farm and create energy at the same time.
The Perrys grow 1,200 acres of potatoes and cull a significant amount to ensure they meet quality standards for their customers, Frito Lay and McCain Foods. By using these culled potatoes as well as manure collected from local livestock operations as feedstock for an anaerobic digester, they can recycle bio-waste into biogas and provide energy for their 20,000-tonne potato storage facility, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“The first phase will be reducing the carbon footprint, because when you take manure and spread it on the land the methane that is released is 21 times worse than carbon as a greenhouse gas,” says Chris. “Our system will use that methane, and although we will still emit carbon, we will be saving over 10,000 metric tonnes every year of CO2 equivalent.”
The Perrys’ ideas just keep coming. “What’s exciting is that a lot of opportunities have sprung up around the biogas facility and have led to some synergistic and innovative ideas and collaborations,” says Chris.
They include a potential algae farm which could use the nutrient rich wastewater from the digester to produce oil that could be refined into biodiesel. “Two acres of algae can produce as much oil as 10,000 acres of canola,” says Chris.
Two local municipalities are looking at diverting biodegradable waste such as kitchen scraps and grass clippings, which currently end up in the landfill, for use at the facility. “That’s a win all around,” says Harold. “The biggest GHG contributor to the municipality is from landfills and those gases are all coming off the biodegradable part. So not only would this reduce the amount of landfill material and the costs associated with that, but we can also capture the nutrient value from the digestate (the resulting pathogen-free soil amendment) to reduce synthetic fertilizer use, which further reduces the whole footprint of the system,” he says.
The Perrys estimate that they will begin to see financial returns on the biogas facility in about 12 years, depending on factors such as the price of natural gas and future incentives for renewable energy, but it’s not only economics that motivates them. “If it pays for itself we’ll be happy,” says Harold. “We hope it will be the right choice for the future; we are trying to utilize the best technology available today to be responsible and do our part.”