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The Environmental Protection Agency gave Crystal Creamery the Food Recovery Challenge National Innovation Award, Jan. 10, for processing its wastewater, dairy and manure by-product into electricity.
Crystal Creamery, a manufacturer that makes butter, ice cream and other milk products, partners with Fiscalini Farms and its anaerobic digester, which converts methane gas into electricity.
“I think the one big thing people don’t understand is how much recycling really goes on in a dairy farm,” said Fiscalini Farms CEO Brian Fiscalini. “The manure the cows produce can be used as fertilizer. In our case, it can be used to make electricity.”
Crystal Creamery joined the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge in 2014. In 2015, the company digested 11,647 tons of by-product. The purpose of the Food Recovery Challenge is to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
In addition to the recycled by-product, Crystal Creamery donated more than eight tons of dairy products to the local food bank and fed 28,572 tons of dairy by-products to animals.
Fiscalini Farms built its digester in 2009 with help from Western United Dairymen and Modesto Irrigation District. Western United Dairymen administered a grant from the California Energy Commission that provided about 50 percent of the funds to build the facility.
Modesto Irrigation District agreed to buy the electricity the digester produces. The digester produces about 3,000 megawatt hours annually or enough electricity to serve about 300 homes.
Fiscalini Farms has one of only two digesters in the northern San Joaquin Valley. The other is at Joseph Gallo Farms in Merced County. The substantial upfront cost, which can be millions of dollars, holds back most farms from building digesters.
That may change, however.
“About $50 million has been set aside recently in this legislative session to fund more of these digesters, and that is coming from cap and trade funds,” Paul Sousa, director of Environmental Services and Regulatory Affairs for the Western United Dairymen said last October.
The other issue involves convincing utilities to buy the electricity at a price that makes sense.
Utilities are required to get a third of their electricity from renewable sources, but most buy solar and wind energy because it costs less.
Fiscalini enjoys a second benefit from its digester. Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring dairies to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent. Fiscalini’s digester has allowed the farm to meet that standard.
“By putting in a digester, capturing the methane that’s coming from the manure, this dairy’s ahead of the game,” said Sousa. “John Fiscalini and Brian Fiscalini saw that coming years ago and prepared for it, and they’ve done their part on that.”