Zero-net-energy farm offers self-sustainability
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Could a farm produce all its own energy? The concept will be tested on a 1,300-acre farm in California’s Fresno County.
If the zero-net-energy farm can generate all its electrical and heating power needs from on-site renewable resources, it could serve as a permitting and financing template for other farms around the country. That could include dairy farms with anaerobic digesters, said Russ Teall, founder and president of Biodico Inc., based in Ventura, California.
Teall and his colleagues already have completed a resource assessment and are investing $1.2 million to test the concept at Red Rock Ranch in Five Points, California. Their project also has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission to create energy solutions for the state’s agricultural industry. On-site renewable energy would help to reduce the consumption of water used to produce grid-based utility energy. That has become increasingly important because California continues to suffer the impact of water constraints, Teall said.
Red Rock Ranch produces almonds and wine grapes, as well as tomatoes, onions and melons. Alfalfa is grown there in winter months, and the farm also houses a flock of sheep.
Using a combination of solar panels, wind turbines, an anaerobic digester and gasification technology, Biodico plans to generate from the farm 1,500 megawatts of energy per year. The energy will be used to power electric meters to support two 350-horsepower well pumps, five irrigation pumps and three employee houses. Energy also will be used to power the farm’s biodiesel plant, maintenance sheds, business offices, refrigerated warehouse and sheep barn.
Red Rock Ranch is located in the San Joaquin Valley, which generally has a high number of dry sunny days. The proposed solar inter-cropping field will be 200 feet by 1,200 feet on a 7-acre plot. It will have 80 north-south rows each 200 feet long and spaced 15 feet apart to allow equipment, such as seeders and small combines, to operate between each row. There will be a total of 4,800 solar panels at 320 watts each.
Dust buildup on solar panels can reduce energy production by up to 20 percent. But because crops at Red Rock Ranch would be grown in rows between solar panels, irrigation water for those crops also could be used to wash the panels.
The farm would feature a structure with solar panels and wind turbines. Wind turbines would be built into the structure instead of being free-standing. Owls and hawks help control rodents in the farm’s orchards and vineyards, and freestanding turbines would disrupt flight patterns, Teall said.
The area’s prevailing winds come from the northwest, so the structure will be open to the north and west. A wall would block eastern exposure. The south-facing roof of the structure would support solar panels with a bank of nine 8-foot-diameter wind turbines at the bottom of the south wall. Each turbine would be capable of producing up to 2 kilowatts per hour.
The structure also would have semi-clear bi-facial panels to allow light reflected off the ground to be used, as well as sunlight from above. The entire structure would have 100 kilowatts of solar capacity and 18 kilowatts of wind capacity, Teall said.
The farm’s anaerobic digester would use both wet and dry forms of biomass. Wood chips from the farm’s orchard and vineyard would provide dry biomass while wet biomass in the form of manure could be trucked in from neighboring dairy farms. California has 1.4 million lactating cows and therefore has a significant amount of manure that could be used to power anaerobic digesters, Teall said.
Biodico’s goal is to use the farm’s design as a replicable model that could be applied to a multitude of operations to be energy-self-sufficient. The company’s next step is to create a permitting procedure so that a farmer wanting to implement such an energy system would know what steps to take to obtain the proper permits. Such a permitting template could help farmers have projects approved in as little as six months compared to two or three years, Teall said.
Biodico builds, owns and operates sustainable biofuel and bioenergy facilities, and conducts research with the U.S. Navy. The company has focused on using proprietary technologies for the sustainable multi-feedstock modular production of next-generation biofuels and bioenergy. Visit www.biodico.com for more information.