Invercargill agricultural and engineering consultant John
Scandrett inspects the biogas recovery monitoring system
installed on a dairy farm at Dacre, east of Invercargill.
Photo by Allison Rudd.
To the observer it looks like any other dairy effluent
pond, but a storage pond on a Southland farm could help the
development of future energy sources.
A system has been installed to measure the naturally
occurring biogas produced by the pond, of which up to 75% is
methane. Monitoring began last month and will continue for
about 18 months.
Biogas can be harnessed for on-farm energy uses such as
fuelling boilers to heat water or buildings, fuelling a
back-up electricity generator, or powering vehicles.
The trial is part of a Niwa project funded by the Ministry
for Primary Industries to determine biogas production from
effluent storage ponds throughout New Zealand. In Southland,
Niwa scientists have teamed up with Southland economic
development organisation Venture Southland and Invercargill
agricultural and engineering consultant John Scandrett.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global
warming. Capturing methane and using it, or flaring it off
(burning it), eliminates an emission source 21 times more
potent than carbon monoxide from fossil fuel combustion.
Full-scale gas recovery systems would involve covering a pond
with a flexible membrane, Mr Scandrett said, but ''Kiwi
ingenuity'' had been used at the monitoring pond.
A plastic water tank was cut in half, the upended half-tanks
floated in the pond and the gas recovered from underneath.
Gas recovery technology is not new. In Europe there had
been a ''big drive'' for green industry and energy
self-sufficiency for at least 20 years, Niwa research engineer
Stephan Heubeck said. About 7000 on-farm biogas systems were
operating in Germany alone and were estimated to be producing
2.5% of the country's electricity.
New Zealand had been slow to adopt the technology because of
the high capital cost of biogas systems manufactured overseas
and because New Zealand, until recently, had relatively cheap
electricity by world standards, he said.
Over the past eight years Niwa had developed lower-cost
biogas recovery systems for effluent ponds at piggeries and
dairy farms, he said.
However, the Southland system is one of the first recovery
systems to be installed at an effluent storage pond.
Because of Southland's wetter climate, it is not possible to
dispose of effluent on to land all year round and most dairy
farmers store effluent in ponds until the ground is dry
enough to absorb more liquid.
A replica system had been installed at a storage pond in the
Waikato and another would be installed in Northland, Mr
Mr Scandrett said biogas recovery had huge potential in
Southland, where dairy farming has taken off over the past 30
years. When he began his business in 1981 there were 120
herds in the region with an average herd size of 160 cows.
Now there were more than 800 herds with an average size of
about 550 cows, he said.
It made sense to harvest the natural energy available from
effluent, he said.
Early results from the monitoring pond were promising, 60
litres of gas a day being recovered from each square metre of
pond surface, he said.
Mr Heubeck estimated a full-scale biogas system on a large
dairy farm might have a pay-back period of five years for the
capital cost of a gas recovery system and water-heating or
All going to plan, biogas technology could make modern,
larger dairy farmers somewhere between two thirds and 100%
energy self-sufficient, he said.
Venture Southland enterprise and strategic project group
manager Stephen Canny said biogas recovery was a topic that
raised much interest at an energy forum in October and
interest from farmers was strong.
It was expected further full-scale projects would be built by
individual farmers on their own properties early next year,