Turning Manure Into Money
Photos by Adam Glanzman for the Washington Post
When Randy Jordan, a fifth-generation dairy farmer in central Massachusetts, looked into turning manure from his 300 cows into natural gas more than a decade ago, he just wanted to find a way to lower his increasingly painful electric bill.
He knew that biodigesters, a sort of modern alchemy that transforms poop into profits, had been around for decades. But many of the tanks, where microorganisms digest manure and turn it into methane gas that can be burned as fuel or converted to electricity, had been abandoned. They proved too complicated to manage. “It was challenging,” he remembered, “and the money didn’t work.”
Then he met Bill Jorgenson, a longtime energy consultant with a vision.
Jorgenson told Jordan that while 87 percent of the digesters in the country had failed, he had a new recipe for success: add food waste to the manure. It would increase the energy output and boost the income for farmers through tipping fees from manufacturers, retailers and others looking to unload food waste. Best of all, it would use methane from the manure, instead of venting it into the atmosphere to contribute to climate change.
It was an unlikely alliance between the farmer and the consultant. “This guy genuinely did not know which end the manure came out of the cow,” Jordan joked.