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Five new ways to make your dairy more energy-efficient

Kyle Booth Published on 11 March 2015

In our business, we are continually consulting with dairies to recommend the most energy-efficient equipment on the farm. Many farms are starting to take a closer look at their operations and taking steps to improve efficiency.

To some of the most progressive dairies, however, these standard recommendations –such as adding a plate cooler, variable-speed drives for the milk pump and milking vacuum pump, compressor heat recovery and efficient lighting and fans – have been implemented years ago, and they are looking to stay on top of the most promising new technologies to save energy on the dairy farm.

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The market for energy-efficient products is constantly changing. What was cutting edge only a few years ago can become mainstream fairly quickly once it catches on, and with this change comes better quality and lower prices.

Remember when fluorescent light bulbs and front-loading washing machines were only for the “greenest” among us, so much so that they had to be ordered from a specialty retailer?

Walk into your local home improvement store today and you’ll probably have to look hard to find the familiar washers and bulbs you grew up with. If your dairy is confident that you’ve already taken care of the basic energy-efficiency upgrades, there are several technologies you will be hearing more about in the coming years.

Below are just a few of the energy-efficiency technologies we’ve been looking at recently. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should get you thinking about where you might make your next investment in energy efficiency.

1. Ozone laundry

Ozone washers work by using ozone gas to clean and disinfect rather than using heat and chemical detergents. Research has shown ozone laundry can be more effective than traditional laundering methods in eliminating bacteria and viruses, which is good news for dairies using cloth for cleaning cow udders.

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Just think of all the hot water you use every day to wash multiple loads of cleaning cloths. How much could you save by using cold water and ozone instead? Ozone laundry systems also use less water – a boon to areas stricken by droughts – and less chemical detergents. Ozone laundry systems are easily retrofitted to an existing commercial washer.

There are many companies that sell ozone laundry systems for commercial machines. If you are considering ozone laundry, make sure to use a recirculation or diffusion system to guarantee continuous circulation of ozone throughout the wash cycle. You must also make sure your system holds a minimum concentration of one part per million dissolved ozone throughout the wash cycle.

2. Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting

One of the most widespread developments in lighting technology in recent years has been the increasing availability and quality of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. These fixtures typically consume 50 to 75 percent less energy than comparable standard lighting fixtures such as incandescent, mercury vapor, high-pressure sodium and halogen.

LED fixtures are available for all standard wattages of exterior lighting fixtures. Benefits include lower power consumption to produce the same amount of light, longer fixture life (typically at least twice the useful life of a standard fixture), lower maintenance costs and no mercury contained in the lamp.

To further reduce your initial investment, exterior LED fixtures can be purchased as a retrofit kit to fit into an existing housing and assembly for a traditional light. Currently, we take a conservative approach in generally recommending LED lighting for exterior lighting only.

While LEDs have become widespread for interior lighting in other sectors of agriculture – particularly poultry houses – we are still awaiting conclusive research about the effects of LED lighting on milk production. Until more is known about the effects of LED lighting within the barn, we recommend progressive dairies begin with exterior lighting retrofits.

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3. Efficient cow cooling

Cow cooling is a significant cost on the farm – certainly for farms in consistently warm climates but also for any dairy experiencing hot summer weather. There are several technologies currently in development that use different approaches to keeping cows cool.

Technologies to look out for in the future include various forms of conductive or evaporative cooling, as well as variable-speed drives for ventilation fans. For those dairies located in areas of persistent drought, pay particular attention to the development of technologies that reduce water used for misting, as these water-saving techniques will be able to help you make the most of available water for the farm.

4. Geothermal heat pumps

Geothermal heat pumps use the relatively constant temperature of the earth and groundwater to offset heating and cooling loads. This technology is well established, but so far, it has had limited experience in the dairy sector.

Many dairies already use a form of geothermal technology in their operation of well-water plate coolers, and opportunity exists to use geothermal heat pumps to offset the substantial dairy hot water loads.

Currently, more research is needed to determine which of the four basic types of geothermal heat pump are best for dairies, as well as the cost and energy efficiency of installing a system. Some initial analyses are promising – with one sample scenario showing up to a 54 percent reduction in heating and 71 percent reduction in cooling costs.

5. Low-temperature detergent

Low-temperature detergent was developed to reduce hot water temperature for wash operations. The detergent allows a temperature of 120ºF to be used in place of the conventional hot water temperature of 160 to 180ºF.

The reduction in wash temperature results in significant water-heating energy savings. It is important producers check with their milk cooperative before switching to low-temperature detergent, as regulations for water temperature can vary.

6. Getting involved in innovative technology development

Dairy farmers themselves can be one of the best resources to helping advance the commercialization of new and promising energy-efficiency technologies for dairies. Many utility and government incentive programs require comprehensive studies on the energy savings from a technology before they will consider providing farmers with a financial incentive for installing it.

If your dairy is excited to be one of the first to try a promising new technology, see if an energy-efficiency company might be able to secure funding to provide a test of the energy savings using your farm as a demonstration.

This can dramatically reduce the cost to you while also doing your part to help advance the overall dairy industry. Whatever you choose to do, even if you’re not yet ready to take the plunge into some of the more innovative energy-efficiency approaches, know that new ideas are always being developed to help your dairy cut your energy costs and improve overall production. PD

Kyle Booth is an energy engineerwith Ensave. He can be contacted by email.

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