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French Version

Dairy farm finds energy source right under its nose

Libanlait harnesses manure power

Three years ago Lebanon's biggest dairy farm, LibanLait, was confronting two seemingly unrelated problems: the rising cost of generating enough power to operate the dairy plant, and how to dispose of the approximately 160,000 pounds of cow manure that accumulated daily.

Thankfully the waste of 2,000 cows generates more than just an unbearable stench. According to the dairy's projections, its herd's manure output has the capacity to generate enough electricity to meet all of the plant's energy requirements.

With the cost of power becoming increasingly unmanageable, many of Lebanon's industrialists are following LibanLait's lead and looking into renewable energy alternatives.

LibanLait's marketing and sales manager spoke with The Daily Star about the farm's novel energy program.

"Environmentally this is a feasible solution because the smell the methane produces when it is burned is truly terrible," Mark Waked said.

"This is only possible for us because we have so many cows," he added. "It would not work for smaller farms because there is not enough manure to meet energy requirements."

The plant keeps manure in huge tanks at 37.7 degrees Celsius, Waked said. In the tanks, the manure is broken down into methane gas, which then is burned for electricity.

Waked said that once an insulated cover to trap the gas arrives, the farm hopes to meet all its energy needs this way.

Though using solid waste to produce electricity would seem to be an ideal solution to Lebanon's energy and garbage problems, in the absence of a centralized waste collection mechanism, only a private - rather than national - initiative seems feasible.

Ronald Diab, managing director of National Energy Consultants, said that he just completed a feasibility study with a company (which he declined to name) to convert 30 tons of daily waste into 1.5 megawatts of electricity - almost enough to meet the company's daily requirements of 2 megawatts.

Diab estimated a savings of $600,000 for the company, but such windfalls apply only to factories that generate their own power.

The Ministry of Energy and Water is promoting wind power as an alternative source of energy. Currently the most popular global option, wind power uses large turbines to generate electricity.

However, many analysts say that this is not a viable option for Lebanon as long as electricity production remains a government monopoly. Diab said that none of the prerequisites exist to motivate utilities or independent power producers (IPPs) to invest in wind power.

"First of all there is no wind map, which means that a feasibility study cannot even be done to see if this is an option," he explained.

"And even if there was a wind map, since EDL has an electricity monopoly, IPPs cannot even sell kilowatts back to the grid," he added.

Ali Berro, spokesman for Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish, told The Daily Star that the ministry has recently issued a tender for private companies to develop wind maps. He said he expects a plan - including the future locations of wind farms - to be ready next year.

Berro also said the current draft of the energy sector reform bill includes a strategy to encourage options for alternative energy sources.

"In the future, power production in Lebanon will be on the basis of IPPs after there is due diligence of EDL and we set the basis of unbundling transmission, distribution, and generation," Berro said. "We should have at least two or three companies in charge of distribution in the future."

But there are no subsidies in place to encourage companies to build plants, and no government incentives for producing alternative energy and selling it. Government support for building plants and for alternative energy providers has been essential to the success of renewable energy in Europe.

The president of the Lebanese Association of Industrialists said that although some firms are looking into alternatives, the legality of the options is dubious.

"I know of two or three [companies] that have tried with wind mills, and a lot of factories are trying to produce electricity through steam, but this is a gray area, whether it is legal," said Fadi Abboud, who favors generating electricity through the bio-gas from municipal waste.

Beirut,07 10 2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star
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