MON AM News: Expert details biogas opportunities for Wisconsin; UW-River Falls gets donation for dairy plant renovation

— An expert with UW-Oshkosh says Wisconsin’s farming and food production industries present a “tremendous” opportunity for biogas in the state. 

UW-Oshkosh Director of Biogas Systems and Research Development Brian Langolf spoke Friday during an Appleton event hosted by UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute. Biogas is a renewable energy source that’s produced when organic materials are broken down by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment through a process called anaerobic digestion. 

Langolf argued Wisconsin could become a national leader in biogas production by leveraging the “huge amount of materials” produced by the agricultural sector and food processors. 

He noted the state has about 1.3 million cows and 7,000 dairy farms — but only about 40 of those farms currently have a digester system for processing waste into biogas. 

“There’s a huge potential if we can miniaturize the technology,” he said, adding that most of the state’s existing digester systems are on larger farms with more than 1,000 cows. By improving the economies of scale for biogas production, he said this technology could become much more widespread. 

Langolf also explained biogas can be purified to the point that it can be injected into natural gas pipelines. 

“If we can tap into all these 7,000 sites, that’s a huge amount of [renewable natural gas] that we can produce in our state locally for homegrown renewable energy,” he said. 

UW-Oshkosh has been operating a biogas project since 2015 at nearby Allen Farms, which has about 200 cows. Most of the material for the digester — about 82 percent — comes from manure gathered from the farm, although the 6 percent that comes from food waste “actually has a lot more energy potential in it,” he said. 

Langolf noted students in engineering, chemistry, marketing and other disciplines play a role in the university’s biogas programs. 

“Getting students involved is part of why we’re in this business,” he said. 

See more details on the Allen Farms project: 

— UW-River Falls has received a $475,000 donation toward its Dairy Pilot Plant Renovation Project, the university recently announced. 

The funding comes from the Wuethrich Family Foundation and Grassland Dairy Products of Greenwood, which has now provided a total of $1 million toward the project. To recognize this support, the university’s dairy pilot plant will be named the Wuethrich Family/Grassland Dairy Center of Excellence. 

“Thanks to their commitment, we will provide our students with amazing interactive experiences with the cutting-edge technology they need to become the next generation of dairy industry leaders,” UW-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo said in the release. 

The four-year, $8 million renovation project will be completed soon with the facility scheduled to come online in the spring, the release shows. 

See a recent story on the project: 

See the release:

— Wisconsin’s labor market remains about 48,800 jobs short of its pre-pandemic level, according to a top state economist. 

Department of Workforce Development Chief Economist Dennis Winters said in a recent briefing that Wisconsin has now recovered about 98 percent of the jobs lost during the COVID-19 economic downturn. 

The latest employment report from the agency shows the state’s construction sector added 1,800 jobs over the month in October, and 8,900 jobs over the year. That brings total construction employment to 135,800 — another new record for this figure, Winters said. The state has set multiple new records for construction jobs this year. 

According to Winters, much of those job gains have come in multi-family housing construction, as well as some in single-family residential development. 

Meanwhile, manufacturers in the state also added 1,800 jobs over the month, and 5,300 jobs year-over-year in October. 

“That’s continuing to improve as we go forward,” Winters said. 

Watch the briefing here: 

See the report for October: 

— United Liquid Waste Recycling will be paying a $160,000 penalty for allegedly violating state law related to disposal of hazardous materials. 

According to a release from the state Department of Justice, the company’s Dodge County waste storage facility failed to report and deal with waste spills, didn’t properly maintain wastewater storage sites, “improperly applied waste” to farm fields and other violations. 

See the release: 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report … </b></i> 

— Attorney General Josh Kaul and dozens of other state AGs are urging federal agencies to permanently allow doctors to use telehealth to prescribe a treatment for opioid abuse.

And Marquette University’s School of Dentistry is getting a $1.02 million federal grant for new clinic equipment and more capacity for patients with special needs. 

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