From an article by Kevin Murphy in the Telegraph Herald, Dubuque, Iowa:

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Pioneer Farm at University of Wisconsin-Platteville touts itself as a state-of-the-art agricultural research facility. However, it’s been lacking renewable energy systems that have become an increasing area of importance in agribusiness.

That changed Wednesday when the State Building Commission approved a $1.18 million bio-energy project that will produce about 7.5 percent of the campus’ electricity needs from the university’s 160-head dairy herd.

Anaerobic digesters, which turn manure into methane used to generate electrical power, typically need 600 cows to reach a break-even point. The Pioneer Farm digester will show that process can be economically feasible on a much smaller scale.

The farm will test other organic material in the digester such as cheese whey, food waste and byproducts from biodiesel processing to determine if they adequately supplement manure in the production of biogas.

Pioneer Farm currently buys all its energy from local utilities, but its master plan considers using power from renewable sources, including wind and solar. However, the intent of the digester project is to install a system compatible with the farm it serves.

“A unique aspect of the project is demonstrating a renewable energy system that is highly integrated into the current farming system with little modification to current livestock cropping and manure management practices,” according to the information supplied to the commission.

The system should save the farm $73,400 in annual energy costs and have a 14-year payback period. That is within the state’s energy-efficiency program that seeks a 16- to 20-year payback period for major projects.