Based in Plymouth, Indiana, Homestead Dairy began as a modest family farm with only 110 cows. In 1979, brothers Floyd and Dan Houin purchased the farm from their dad and turned it into the massive dairy operation that it is today. The dairy now hosts 1,800 milking cows and 300 dry cows, while an additional 1,700 cows come in from three nearby facilities for milking. However, more cows means more manure, and the odor directly impacted nearby residents.
The Houins saw the possibility to turn a problem into a profit. They decided to build a biomass waste-to-energy facility that could convert the manure into electric power. Floyd knew that Homestead Dairy’s equipment would need to run 24/7 with minimal downtime, so dependability was the deciding factor in choosing Caterpillar to supply the power. In researching the project, Floyd Houin toured a farm with a renewable energy facility that ran at peak efficiency, even with their older-model Cat® generator sets. That’s when the Houins knew they’d trust their project to Caterpillar.
Homestead Dairy partnered with local Cat® dealer, Michigan Cat, to customize a power generation system for Homestead Green Energy, the energy-producing business within the dairy – two Cat® G3512A generator sets and ancillary equipment.
Homestead Green Energy has been in constant operation since October 2013, and the Cat® generator sets are essential to the waste-to-energy process. The manure is collected in pools and piped 1,700 feet to a pair of mixing tanks that empty into two anaerobic digesters. Once inside the tanks, the waste is heated and treated with microbes that produce methane gas, which is used to fuel the gas generators. Generator exhaust heat and jacket water heat are used to warm up the digesters as part of the fermentation process.
Beyond odor reduction and the financial return from producing electricity, Homestead Dairy uses the dewatered solids from the digesters as clean bedding for the cows. Additionally, the liquid nutrient byproduct is held in lagoons and used to fertilize the farm fields.
“By turning this abundant substance into an income stream, we’ve made the dairy more profitable,” said Ryan Rogers, plant operator for Homestead Green Energy. “It also helps increase nutrient value, which is great for the environment. The crops absorb the manure better, and odor reduction for the community is a huge benefit.”
The Homestead Green Energy installation demonstrates the economic viability of smaller-scale, waste-to-energy operations to create wins for business, the community and the environment.