Methane Recovery from Small Dairy Operations

2005 Annual Report for SW04-007

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

Methane Recovery from Small Dairy Operations


This project will develop a simplified, technically and economically feasible anaerobic digester system for smaller dairy operations commonly found in the region. Manure will be converted into biogas in 5 days using anaerobic digester. Methane generated in the digestion process will be used to produce electricity for the project dairy in Manhattan, Montana. Current anaerobic digester technology is only marginally feasible for the smaller dairy operations common throughout the Rocky Mountain area. This project will develop a reliable, cost-effective and simplified digester system and demonstrate an alternative manure management method for the $40 million dairy industry in Montana.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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 benchmark of sustainable agriculture 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.

– Widely promote the project’s environmental and economical benefits to increase public education of the use of this technology.


– Throughout this past year, researchers from Utah State were consulted to discuss the design of the methane digester. We have learned about important small details that can cause significant troubles.

– We have toured digester sites and learned from their users how they operate and if there are any features they would like to change.

– A design for a methane digester for a farm that has a limited space is almost complete. The digester design has to take into account the limited farm space and have a minimal or no impact on present farm operations. The NRCS is participating with us on this project, and they have been working on other aspects of this system such as a solids extractor and a storage lagoon. This further complicates the methane digester location and plan.

– The design of two key low-cost sensors is completed. These two sensors are a flow meter for animal waste and a methane sensor.

– Some small design details are being completed and construction of the digester should begin in the late spring.

– One of the difficulties that we have had to deal with is the fact that there is not a methane digester for the generation of power in Montana. Because we are in a new area, we are having to develop new agreements with the power company. It appears that we will be able to establish a qualified facility arrangement to sell electricity to the utility, but that is still in negotiation.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

– Once completed, this project will demonstrate to agricultural producers how they can economically benefit from a renewable resource such as animal waste.

– This project will show how an agricultural producer can reduce odor and pathogens, reduce greenhouse emissions, produce needed energy, reduce production costs, and protect water quality.


Henry Burkwhat
District Conservationist
Hamilton, MT 59828
Office Phone: 4063635010
Rob Johnson
Ravalli County Extension Agent
MSU Extension
Kristine Handley
NRCS Civil Engineer
Joshua Kellar
Northern Rocky Mountain RC&D
Office Phone: 4065825700
Dan Huls
Secretary, Huls Dairy Inc.
Huls Dairy Inc.
1851 Coyote Road
Corvallis, MT 59828
Office Phone: 4069618887
Kara Schile
Ag. Assistant
Gallatin County Extension
201 W. Madison, Ste. 300
Belgrade, MT 59714
Office Phone: 4063883213
Tim Huls
President, Huls Dairy Inc.
Huls Dairy Inc.
1851 Coyote Road
Corvallis, MT 59828
Office Phone: 4069618887