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Harnessing anaerobic digestion for combined cooling, heat, and power on dairy farms: An environmental life cycle and techno-economic assessment of added cooling pathways

Usack, J.G., Van Doren, L. Gerber, Posmanik, R., Tester, J.W., Angenent, L.T.
Journal of dairy science 2019 v.102 no.4 pp. 3630-3645
absorption, anaerobic digestion, biogas, capital, climate, cold treatment, cooling, cows, dairy cattle, dairy farming, economic sustainability, electricity costs, emissions, farms, heat production, heat stress, land use, markets, milk, natural gas, operating costs, power generation, refrigeration, renewable electricity, United States
Anaerobic digestion coupled with combined heat and power production on dairy farms is environmentally advantageous; however, high capital and operating costs have limited its adoption, especially in the United States, where renewable electricity and heat production are under-incentivized. Biogas is also at a disadvantage because it has to compete with very low natural gas prices. The objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of integrating absorption refrigeration technology for combined cooling, heat, and power (CCHP) on the farm to help bridge this economic hurdle. A combined environmental life cycle and techno-economic assessment was used to compare 2 cooling pathways with and without co-digestion. We considered using CCHP to (1) displace electricity-driven refrigeration processes (e.g., milk chilling/refrigeration, biogas inlet cooling) or (2) mitigate heat stress in dairy cattle via conductive cow cooling. All cooling scenarios reduced environmental emissions compared with combined heat and power only, with an appreciable reduction in land use impacts when employing conductive cow cooling. However, none of the cooling scenarios achieved economically viability. When using cooling power to displace electricity-driven refrigeration processes, economic viability was constrained by low electricity prices and a lack of incentives in the United States. When used for conductive cow cooling, economic viability was constrained by (1) low waste heat-to-cooling conversion efficiency; (2) limited conductive cow cooling effectiveness (i.e., heat-stress mitigation); and (3) low heat stress frequency and limited severity. However, we predict that with minor improvements in conductive cow cooling effectiveness and in hotter climates, CCHP for conductive cow cooling would be economically viable even in current US energy markets.