Methane Recovery from Small Dairy Operations

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $123,834.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Federal Funds: $450,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $127,000.00
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Ron Carlstrom
MSU Extension- Gallatin County

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley, corn, oats, potatoes, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: manure management, preventive practices, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, application rate management
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: sanitation
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, urban/rural integration, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will develop a reliable, cost-effective and simplified anaerobic digester system and demonstrate an alternative manure management method for the $40 million dairy industry in Montana. Waste from the dairy operation will be converted into biogas in three to six days using an Induced Blanket Reactor (IBR), anaerobic digester technology developed by Utah State University. Methane generated in the digestion process will be used to produce energy for the project dairy in Churchill, Montana. Current Plug Flow Reactor (PFR) technology used in the majority of anaerobic digester operations throughout the United States is only marginally economically feasible for the smaller dairy operations found in the Rocky Mountain area. PFR digesters require approximately twenty days to convert waste from the dairy operations into methane.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The purpose of this project is to design and construct a simplified, cost-effective anaerobic digestion system for a smaller dairy operation typical in the region. This project couples the latest anaerobic digester design technology from Utah State University with automation technology developed through Montana State University to achieve the following objectives:
    - Develop a waste management benchmark for the dairy industry to increase profitability, lessen reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and showcase the power of partnerships to maintain the economic strength of local agriculture.
    - Demonstrate the environmental benefits of anaerobic digestion: nutrient conservation and utilization, odor and pathogen reduction, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy production and utilization, reduction in production costs, and protection of water quality.
    - Demonstrate the economic feasibility of anaerobic digestion for waste management, reducing production cost, and diversifying income for the family farm.
    - Showcase a sustainable agricultural practice that is designed with heavy producer involvement resulting in a reliable, easily maintained system.
    - Demonstrate that the agriculture industry can successfully adapt and co-exist within a changing community and social landscape.
    - Widely promote the environmental and economical benefits of this project to increase public education of the use of this technology.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.