Dairy farm saves £2,000 a year by heating water with cow muck
Archant © 2018
An East Anglian dairy farmer has cut his electricity bills by £2,000 a year – by harnessing the power of his cows’ manure to heat water supplies.
Jonny Crickmore, at Fen Farm Dairy, near Bungay, started investigating how to generate extra energy after the farm’s expansion into milk processing and cheese-making greatly increased its need for hot water to clean the equipment.
While checking drinking troughs during the winter he noticed one of the old cow sheds, with pipes buried below the dirt floor, always had lukewarm water which never froze. He put a thermometer in the compost bedding and found the temperature to be 70C – sparking the idea of using the waste heat generated by the cow muck.
With a new floor already planned for one of the farm’s barns, he experimented by laying a mile of alkaline pipe in sand underneath the concrete, to absorb the heat from the cattle bedding and muck above.
It succeeded in lifting the mains water temperature from 8C to 30-34C, which is then further boosted to 54-60C by heat exchangers using another waste product – the refrigerant gases which gain heat after they have been used to cool the cows’ milk.
After the £5,000 installation costs, Mr Crickmore estimates the financial savings to be about £2,000 a year, so the project should pay for itself in two-and-a-half years.
“I was looking at all the different things we could do and it dawned on me to use what we have already got – there is heat everywhere, so why not use stuff that’s being wasted?” he said.
“Now, when we need a lot of hot water to wash the milking parlour down, instead of having to heat water from 8C we’re starting at 60C which obviously uses a lot less energy. And we’re getting that heat for free. We’re taking the water from 8C to 60C without involving any cost, other than the up-front cost of installation.
“It has made me wonder if there are more ways we can manipulate the heat from a muck heap. Can we make more use of it, rather than just putting it back on the land? The heat that comes off it just goes into the atmosphere and we can do better things with it.”
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The water in the under-floor heating system is stored in the pipes until it is needed for the milk plants’ hot wash cycles. After the water is used the pipes are refilled and the continuous process starts again.
The dairy also uses solar panels to power its milking parlour, and there are plans to install a wood and straw burner to generate more energy from farm waste, as the business strives to become carbon neutral.
“It is a long journey, but we want to get to being carbon neutral eventually, which is what all businesses need to be doing in the coming years,” said Mr Crickmore.
“We have all got to start thinking like this unless we want to get left behind. We need to lead the way and get ahead of the game.”
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