It's an age-old problem for horse owners: what to do with the never-ending pile of manure your horses create. For many environmentally conscious horse owners, the solution has been to compost the manure , turning it into an organic rich soil amendment that can be reapplied to your pasture or garden. This is, and will continue to be, a cost-effective and eco-friendly way to manage your manure .
Several forward-thinking companies are developing new technologies that provide another green option for manure management: converting the manure into energy in the form of heat or electricity.
LEI-Products, based out of Madisonville, Kentucky, has recently developed a combined biomass fuel drying and burning technology that can heat up to 30,000 square feet of space, enough for an indoor riding arena or similar application. The process begins by feeding manure and bedding into a product feed bin. The manure and bedding are then dried and used as fuel for a burner, heating water that is circulated through a network of pipes to provide radiant or forced air heat. The unit is also capable of making bedding from wood chips, sawdust or grass, creating a closed-loop system.
BREAK IT DOWN
Anaerobic digestion is another promising manure-to-energy technology. In anaerobic digestion, methane produced by the breakdown of organic matter, including manure and bedding, is captured, cleaned up, and used like natural gas to power a combined heat and power (CHP) unit capable of generating electricity in addition to heat. SEaB Bioenergy, a company based in the United Kingdom, is currently marketing an anaerobic digestion system for horse operations called the Muckbuster. Previously, anaerobic digestion was feasible only for large livestock operations, but SEaB has been working hard to downsize the technology to be suitable for smaller operations typical of most horse farms.
Heat extraction is yet another technology being developed in which steam produced during the regular composting process is captured and used to heat barn buildings, greenhouses, and water. Anyone who has observed the steam coming off a compost pile has experienced this technology firsthand. Researchers have successfully tested heat extraction from composting on dairy farms, but believe it could also be developed for a 30- to 50-horse farm.
While costs vary for each technology, overall they are still out of reach for most horse farm owners. Grants may be available to support early adopters of these technologies, but funding can be difficult to obtain. This is especially true for horse operations in many states that may not qualify for agricultural-based renewable energy grant programs.
As these early entrepreneurial companies continue to push the envelope of their respective technologies, the cost effectiveness of manure-to-energy technologies is sure to improve. Soon, you may be thanking your horses as you turn up the thermostat on a chilly winter evening.
Clay Nelson is Principal of Sustainable Stables, LLC ( SustainableStables.com ). He also runs the website FarmandStables.com , where you can see examples of environmentally-friendly farm projects from across the U.S.