A co-op-style company founded by Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) vice-president Nick Thurler has taken the first step towards the goal of gaining access to 80% of the country’s manure for conversion to renewable natural gas (RNG).
Thurler officially launched GET Corp, – and the sustainable agriculture program that forms its centerpiece, in a video presented to attendees at the Dairy Farmers of Canada AGM in July. In a recent interview with Farmerthe South Mountain farmer said “we’ve been holding meetings all winter” with Ontario dairy farmers “and there’s been a lot of interest.”
Why does it matter: The project aims to increase the income of farmers, the availability of natural gas for consumers and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
An investment of USD 56.5 million from a corporate partner was secured and former DFO management team member Shikha Jain was hired as CEO of GET Corp.
However, it was only after signing the funding agreement with Canadian waste reuse specialists Green For Life (GFL) Environmental that GET Corp was able to officially announce its plans.
Thurler says he was approached by the Danish company Green Island more than a year ago about the possibility of establishing a similar network in Canada. The firm wanted to see if there was a business case, but if a grant was required to do it, they wanted no part of it.
“I kind of liked that,” Thurler said of the company’s distaste for government financial support.
He learned that farm biodigesters filled 50% of Denmark’s natural gas pipeline with “green gas” that uses only farm waste to generate biodigesters. This means that there is less need for purification than in the case of gas from digesters that mix different types of municipal or food processing waste, which is called “brown gas”. So the price paid for it is higher.
The Danish company’s goal is to have 100% of the country’s pipeline filled with green gas by 2035. While that goal might seem lofty, consider the goal set after Thurler and other Canadian dairy players visited Denmark last November and agreed to explore the possibility. to transfer its model to Canada.
GET Corp., which stands for Green Energy Trading Corporation, aims to build 310 biodigesters in Canada by 2030 to capture 80 percent of the country’s manure.
A digester is under construction at Thurler Farms. Meetings last winter led to commitments from five other Ontario dairy farms to host GET Corp’s digesters, provided off-farm financing is secured.
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“I thought we’d have the foundations in the ground by now,” Thurler said of the other five locations (two more in eastern Ontario and three in southwestern Ontario). But financing was more difficult than he predicted.
“I wanted to keep the funding separate from the farms because it’s a big expense. For them, if a farm comes up for sale, they may not be able to pass on that opportunity if they have the money tied up in building a biodigester.
“That’s the kind of scenario we wanted to avoid with our company.”
Thurler admitted he took a leap of faith in putting his own farm’s money into the first biodigester, but GET Corp eventually settled with GFL Environmental, a Toronto-based company that has made forays into waste management for various sectors economic, to finance the first six.
Several biogas digesters have been operating in Ontario for years and one produces biogas that is converted to natural gas.
“It’s been a tough few months in the negotiations to make sure both partners are happy,” Thurler said.
However, he is confident that the Danish model for biodigester technology and the centralized regional manure handling and processing system will ensure a good return on investment, both for GFL Environment and the country’s dairy farmers.
“These are smaller and taller than what you usually see in Ontario now,” Thurler says of the technology used by Green Island. A good number of existing biodigesters in Ontario bring in other source materials, he notes, but the Danish ones are designed to work most efficiently using only farmyard manure.
But the real draw for many Canadian dairy farmers, he believes, will be the aggregation of manure from different farms in a region into a centralized biodigester.
“Talking to the pipeline companies, they don’t want to buy gas from me and then go down the road and buy gas from my neighbor and buy gas from the guy next door.”
The Danish model is to aggregate farmyard manure at individual locations. Each of the biodigesters has an optimal manure utilization scale of 1,800 cows, and a network of trucks transports manure from nearby sites to the biodigester. This allows smaller-scale farms, which would not typically be large enough to support a biodigester, to add their manure to an environmentally friendly solution.
Farmers are paid for RNG based on the amount of manure they contribute, plus a cooperative-style profit share if the entire digester makes money. Digestate, to be used as fertilizer, is also returned to each farmer based on the amount of manure supplied.
Thurler has 450 cows, so he needs manure from an additional 1,350 cows for his site’s digester to operate at optimal scale. Based on the interest expressed by farmers in his area, he doesn’t think GET Corp will have a problem keeping the Thurler Farms facility running at full capacity.
“Probably eight or nine farms will send manure to my farm,” he predicted. As with the Danish model, “we will have a trucking company to move the manure back and forth.
“GET Corp will make sure the digesters are full all the time,” Thurler said in the video presented at the DFC AGM to launch the company.
There are three ways to be involved: as a participant sending manure to the biodigester and receiving the digestate; as a host also receiving lease payments from GET Corp to make room for an on-farm biodigester; or as the owner of the digester who has an agreement with GET Corp for its full operation.
Thurler hopes to see gas flowing from his farm’s digester by February.
https://farmtario.com/news/ambitious-plan-aims-to-add-300-biodigesters/ The ambitious plan aims to add 300 biodigesters