Energy produced from cow manure at an Ottawa Valley dairy farm has been turning heads and generators.

The technology developed by farmer and engineer Paul Klaesi and his brother Fritz won a $50,000 innovation award from the Ontario governmentthis year, and now tourists are flocking to their farm in Foresters Falls, about 100 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

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The Klaesis power project is the smallest of its kind in Canada and shows that anaerobic digester power technology is feasible on a typical farm, Natural Resources Canada says. ((Paul Klaesi))

"Every week, one or two tours or groups show up," Paul Klaesi said as he showed CBC reporter Hallie Cotnam the 300 cows and the machines that together produce enough power for the entire dairy operation and 40 homes.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the Klaesis power project is the smallest of its kind in Canada and shows that anaerobic digester power technology is feasible on a typical farm.

The technology uses bacteria to generate a biogas mixture containing methane or natural gas, and then collecting and burning the gas to power a generator connected to the provincial power grid.

The process begins in the stalls that house the cattle, where Klaesibegan his tour.

About 160 of those cows are fed five times a day to produce the farm's main source of income— milk.

'It's like a cow's stomach'

But a conveyor belt passes behind the cattle to collect their other useful product— manure.

"We don't do it by hand anymore," said Klaesi, who estimated the cows together produce a big tractor-trailer load of manure every day.

That goes into an anaerobic digester, a 500 cubic-metre container of liquid manure and bacteria kept at 40 C.

"It's like a cow's stomach," said Klaesi, a former engineer at Hydro Zurich in Switzerland.

He added that unlike the cow's digestive system, which uses four stomachs and an intestinal tract to remove 85 per cent of the energy from the food over two days, it takes the bacteria 25 days to extract the remaining 15 per cent of the energy by producing a biogas mixture of:

  • Sixtyper cent methane.
  • Thirty-fiveper cent carbon dioxide.
  • Fiveper cent other gases.

That mixture is collected in a rubber cap that expands like a rising loaf of bread,and then is fed into a generator.

The gas is burned to produce electricity.

Klaesi said 40 per cent is used to power the farm, cutting a monthly power bill that was once $2,500 to only a basic $30 fee.

The remaining 60 per cent is sold to Ontario's power grid at an average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour, about $120 a month.

Brothers spent $180K on technology

Despite the recognition and support that the power project has been getting, Klaesi said the provincial government was not enthusiastic when he first approached it with the idea in 2001.

He was told he couldn't get a grant because generating power this way had been tried unsuccessfully before. Klaesi and his brother, who had seen similar systemsin their native Switzerland, decided to invest $180,000 in the idea themselves.

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Brothers Fritz and Paul Klaesi won an innovation award from the Ontario government this year. ((Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs))

"We knew from home that it will work if we do it right," he said.

And it did work.

In March, the Klaesi brothers were awarded the Minister's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence from the Province of Ontario.

They and their sons are now interested in expanding the farm, and are taking part in a pilot project to combine manure with restaurant grease, which contains more unused energy than manure and should boost the amount of power they produce.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural affairs are all contributing funding toward the research.