Nature Energy brings large-scale manure-to-energy projects from Denmark to Minnesota
The first two communities where Nature Energy will set up are Benson in central Minnesota and Wilson in the southeast. The company is working on plans for a third location in Roberts, Wisconsin, just across the St. Croix River from Minnesota.
BENSON, Minn. — A company from Denmark that harvests energy from manure and food waste is poised to bring its high-tech system to two Minnesota communities.
Nature Energy’s business is to take manure from dairy and other livestock farmers, then turn the methane from that manure into natural gas and next give that manure back to farmers for use as fertilizer.
The natural gas can then be sold to heat homes or for other uses, said Alexis Glick, the CEO for Nature Energy’s new North American division, based in Minneapolis.
The first two U.S. communities where Nature Energy will set up are Benson in central Minnesota and Wilson in the southeast. The company is working on plans for a third location in Roberts, Wisconsin, just across the St. Croix River from Minnesota. It also plans a facility in Quebec, Canada.
“Our intent is essentially to build out our know-how and our capacity by taking the Danish model and scaling it in the United States. And we felt that the first place to do that would be in the Midwest, right in Minnesota, where we have such a rich agricultural community, and so that's why we decided this is where we want to begin to grow and replicate the model that was created in Denmark,” Glick said in an interview.
Nature Energy plans to start construction in Benson and Wilson next year. Terri Collins, the mayor Benson, got to see Nature Energy’s technology in action when Nature Energy hosted a delegation from Benson in Denmark in 2021.
Collins said she was impressed with how clean the facilities in Denmark were as she watched a tanker truck pull in with a load of manure.
“Garage door comes down, they suck out that cow manure — it’s like taking a big hose, sucking it all out of the truck, inserting into their pipes, where it goes for them to start doing all their magic,” Collins said. “In the meantime then, they switch the pipe over and (give) back the liquid they’ve already harvested the gas out of. This was a 15-minute process — so impressive. Door goes up, off the truck goes.”
That exchange helps reduce truck traffic.
“There’s no smell, there’s no spilling,” Collins said.
What goes back to the farmer, of course, is not the same manure that was brought in But what they get back should be better, with the levels of nutrients balanced to suit what their farmland needs.
“When you look at our co-digestion process, we have the ability to essentially bring in manure and waste and measure, as they're coming into our digesters, the amount of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) values,” Glick said. “Because we have measured the value of the NPK when it comes into the building, we can actually customize the type of NPK value that the soil health product produces when it comes out of the building.”
She said that in Denmark, the practice has improved crop yields by as much as 30%.
Nature Energy hopes to be delivering energy, soil health and other products by 2024.
The facility that Nature Energy will use in Benson is a plant that was built to turn turkey manure into energy. But the plant has not operated for several years.
Collins said having already had a manure-to-energy plant operating in the town of about 3,500 people made it a good fit for the community.
“We’re open to bio energy,” Collins said, who added that the company did a good job of addressing concerns about things such as truck traffic and odor.
“The fact that it didn’t smell was huge,” Collins said.
Other things that worked in Benson’s favor is that it is at the end of a natural gas pipeline that Nature Energy hopes to tap into.
The areas where Nature Energy plans to operate also have enough dairy and other livestock farms to meet its needs.
Glick said the plant needs about 15,000 cows in a 20 to 30 mile radius to supply enough manure to keep the plant running 24 hours a day.
Turkey litter and other manure, as well as food waste and other bio-mass also can help feed the plant, but most of the manure will come from cows.
Participating dairy farmers will get a certificate from Nature Energy so they can get credit for reducing their carbon footprint, which can help their profitability.
“They will be the transformational example for the rest of the state, as will Wilson,” Glick said.
Bio-digesters that turn manure and other waste into energy have been around for awhile. Some larger dairy operations even have invested in their own digesters.
But Glick says the scale and efficiency of the Nature Energy process is something that sets it apart.
“We've seen leaps and bounds in terms of where that technology has gone,” Glick said.