Monday, June 02, 2008

Pulling an "A" for Grade A

For a variety of reasons that I won't go into now, dairy farms and wind farms are two of my major passions. The discovery of possible synergies between these two industries I find very exciting. Taking a broader, less personal view, it's encouraging to see that efforts are being made to demonstrate that energy efficiency and clean energy solutions may be able to help our beleaguered resource-based industries be more efficient, viable and greener. (GW)

Dairy farms get a helping hand

By Bradford L. Miner
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
May 30, 2008

A team of WPI students was on its “A” game this semester, applying its engineering expertise to agriculture. The result could be a boon to the state’s dairy industry.

Across the state, dairy farmers have embraced the recommendations of a 17-member dairy task force, which call for income tax credits, dairy marketing and promotion, and, of interest to the WPI team, alternative and renewable energy resources.

On Saturday, the students made the rounds with state Rep. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, one of the backers of legislation designed to keep men like James R. Talvy, David G. Hanson and Philip D. Stevens milking cows.

Andrew McCarthy, Andrew Sides, Joseph Wilkos and Kurt Schebel made up the WPI team working on one facet of the recommendations.

“Our project was to work with dairy farmers to come up with ways to help them increase their energy efficiency and in doing so, save money on their energy bills,” Mr. McCarthy said.

He said the team looked into measures specific to dairy farms such as variable-speed vacuum pumps for milking machines that respond to increased demand for suction; plate coolers that use groundwater to reduce the temperature of milk from the cow’s body before it’s further cooled in refrigerated stainless steel holding tanks; and heat recovery units that preheat water used in the milking parlor, drawing on the heat given off by refrigeration units.

“With each of these measures, we’re looking at either reducing energy use, or using waste heat to raise the temperature of water used in the milking parlor and barn to 100 degrees, or by the same token, using water to precool milk temperatures to 50 degrees,” he explained.

Mr. McCarthy said he was told by farmers that during the winter months cows prefer the warmed water. At one dairy farm, he said, the experience had been that the heat recovery process raised the temperature of 65 gallons of water to 100 degrees in a day’s time.

He said because of the advantages of terrain and elevation, Phil Stevens in Barre might be able to take advantage of a wind-powered turbine to generate electricity.

“He had already looked into the possibility on his own, and was looking for a second opinion from our team,” Mr. McCarthy said.

While wind generation has not been that advantageous historically over much of the state, the WPI team member said Mr. Stevens’ site and the benefits from a wind turbine at the farm may be the exception.

Mr. McCarthy said the assignment, for which he and his three colleagues received an “A,” was somewhat daunting.

“We were told that the Massachusetts dairy industry was in trouble, and as it related to energy issues, we were told to ‘fix it,’ ” he said.

“Just how successful we were we’ll see in the months to come,” Mr. McCarthy added. Ms. Gobi said she was a facilitator, working with the WPI students and faculty adviser Fabio Carrera, and was pleased with the outcome of the project.

“I think we’ve seen there are measures these farmers may implement at little or no cost that will result in immediate savings,” she said.

Mr. Talvy said he has one of the smaller farms in the region, milking 40 Holsteins and shipping about 4,500 pounds of milk every other day to a Hood processing plant.

He said he was grateful both to Ms. Gobi and the WPI team for their suggestions.

Mr. Talvy said he’s a strong backer of the dairy task force recommendations and is confident it will help keep him farming.

“Right now, the costs of production and the price we’re getting for the milk is just about even,” he said.

Mr. Hanson said the initial capital cost of new equipment would be the greatest obstacle to his implementing some of the recommendations of the WPI team.

Commenting on the recent field visit to his farm, Mr. Hanson said, “Not only are they a nice bunch of guys, but their energy-saving ideas are well-researched and well thought out. The payback period in some cases, however, is six or seven years or more, and who knows what dairy farming in Massachusetts will look like seven years from now,” he said.

Mr. Hanson said he was unaware of any federal or state or utility programs that offered grants, low-interest loans or other incentives and assistance in upgrading to more energy-efficient equipment.

“That’s not to say that we won’t see something in the future. The dairy task force is working on legislation that might provide some help in the future."


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