WisBusiness: Skill Associates looks to create green energy from manure

By Jamie Jergenson

KAUKAUNA — A Kaukauna company is hoping to become number one – in the number two business. In what may be the ultimate in recycling, Skill Associates is helping farmers turn their animal waste into green energy.

The company was formed in 2003 in response to the Environmental Protections Agency’s new animal waste policies known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) regulations. The rules require producers with 1,000 or more animal units to implement a plan to improve water quality, to reduce odor emissions and to reduce greenhouse gases.

After 25 years in the paper industry, president and CEO Paul Schneider decided to utilize his experience to help producers and clean up the environment.

“While watching farmers apply manure, it became apparent that it is a very costly and environmentally challenging process for dairymen,” Schneider said.

In order to solve this problem, Skill Associates developed their own manure management system called Elimanure. Elimanure follows a four-step series that ultimately produces green energy.

The manure is first collected and pumped to a high-tech bio dryer. The bio dryer dries the manure to eliminate the majority of the moisture. This manure can be recycled for bedding or continue on to a biomass burning system.

The biomass burning system sends the dried manure through a thermal gasification system to create steam. The steam is then piped to a turbine that generates “green” energy, which can be sold to power companies.

“Elimanure is a win-win situation for communities, farms, and the agricultural industry,” Schneider said. “The agricultural producer wins with a stream of revenue instead of a cost liability from manure. The community wins with elimination of odor and mess associated with hauling and spreading manure.

“The environment wins with the elimination of overload of nutrients on the land, prevention of Methane gas emissions from the farm, and the production of renewable energy.”

Skill Associates handles the project from start to finish, including project management and financing. With engineers, grant writers and financial institutions available, Skill Associates has a complete team ready to serve the agricultural community.

With its extensive equipment and innovation process, one would assume Elimanure would be out of financial reach for most producers. However, there are many ways to finance the Elimanure system, including state and federal grants.

Since it is considered a mechanical process, Elimanure can be financed like any other piece of farm equipment. The first step in financing is a feasibility study. This study includes a flow diagram of how the system will work, a cost analysis and a revenue analysis. All documents included in the feasibility study will be used to file for state and federal grants.

“The Elimanure design is completely self sufficient and runs ‘24-7’ with less manpower
than required for the on-farm manure management process. The payback on most farms is less than four years and is cash-flow positive in the first year,” Schneider said.

The initial Elimanure system was created for use by dairy producers. However, next steps will focus on hog operations and ethanol production. Skill Associate’s CAFO market includes 358 operations in the Upper Midwest and more than 18,000 operations nationwide.

”There is a lot of pressure to market to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona and we may have to change our business plan, but at this time we will remain focused on the upper Midwest. At least until we secure the financing needed to commercialize our company further,” Schneider said.

Skill Associates has a prototype installed and operational in Greenleaf, Wis. The operation, Weise Brothers Dairy, consists of 1,700 head of dairy cattle and 3,700 animal units. However, Schneider and his staff are still in the commercialization process. They are making progress with four letters of intent and several projects in consideration.

“We are the first in the world to dry and burn manure in a continuous process,” Schneider said. “Our first drying system was very robust, but our combustor came up short of our expectations. However, we have learned, and developed a new system that is much more robust as well as cost effective.”

At this time Skill Associates is a “bootstrap” company, funded by friends and family. However, it is seeking an additional $2 million from accredited investors before selling to a strategic investor in the next three to five years.

For more information about Skill Associates and their Elimanure system, visit their website at www.burnmanure.com.

Jergenson, who grew up on a Wisconsin farm, recently graduated from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.