If a future in sustainable farming is to be achieved in the coming years, companies in both the private and public sector need to be working both faster and more collaboratively, says dairy farm investment company Fortuna Group.
Southland-based Fortuna Group, along with Dairy Green, are the innovators at the forefront of New Zealand’s methane recovery system.
While there are other methane recovery plants in New Zealand, the partnership’s plant at Glenarlea Farms in Otautau is the only one that is consistently and reliably generating electricity from methane.
It is a project which has been a labour of love for more than 10 years for Fortuna Group CEO David Dodunski.
However, in the past few years, the project has seen significant advancement and was recently named as a finalist in the Deloitte Energy Excellence Awards.
Along with LZ New Zealand and WEL Networks, the partnership’s methane recovery plant (biogas recovery system) is up for Energy Innovation of the Year.
The winner will be announced at the awards dinner in Auckland on Wednesday August 9.
The methane recovery system is similar to most modern dairy farm effluent systems, except for an additional covered pond where methane is produced and captured.
This methane is then sucked from the pond to a generator shed, where it is used to power a biogas generator, generating electricity.
Along with power from the grid, this electricity is used to run the dairy farm and significantly reduces power costs while remaining an environmentally sustainable option.
In the spring of 2016, the generator was run up to 16 hours per day to keep up with the gas production. The generator produced 30 kW electrical power and the motor 60 kW hot water for each hour it ran.
Dodunski said the team felt honoured to have their work towards sustainability recognised.
“13 years ago, we had this crazy idea to somehow turn what had been considered a waste by-product into something useful,” he said.
“To have all the hard work recognised is great, and we’re thankful to have worked closely with our partners to get to this point, Dairy Green, EECA, NIWA and Venture Southland.”
It was, however, the vision between Dodunski and John Scandrett, owner of Dairy Green, that brought the project to life.
“John is the kind of guy who looks at a project and can see it’s potential for the next 10 years,” he said.
“It’s that kind of vision and commitment to sustainable farming which will see farming practices revolutionised for the better.”
While Dodunski is taking a moment to appreciate being a finalist for the Deloitte Energy Excellence Awards, his thoughts are constantly on innovation and how to provide sustainable farming solutions for the future of the industry.
“We are always finding new ways of doing things better,” he said.
“That’s what innovation is about, and we constantly have to be pushing the envelope of what it means to be an innovator if we are going to achieve sustainability on a large scale across the dairy farming network.”
It’s fair to say he feels a certain responsibility for the future of New Zealand’s sustainable dairy farming practices.
But to do this, technologies, such as the methane recovery plant, need to be accessible for dairy farmers.
With that in mind, Fortuna Group is calling on those who could be the key to unlocking the next phase of sustainable dairy farming.
Fortuna Group has an over-arching goal to provide New Zealand’s dairy farms with a methane recovery plant, at a cost of $100,000.
With the savings made from the methane plant producing electricity for the farm, these costs would be recouped in about five years.
“There’s 12,000 dairy farms across New Zealand – imagine if that technology was so affordable for farmers, leading to them all supplying power back into the grid,” Dodunski said.
But to do this, the project needs the support of companies such as electricity providers to come on board.
Currently, the cost of installing a methane recovery plant comes in above Fortuna Group’s goal of $100,000, rendering the technology inaccessible for many dairy farmers.
“This is a scalable technology and we want it to be low-cost, but we need help to do that,” he said.
“It’s an attainable future we can provide for farmers, if we can get the right people and companies on board to help us.”