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Ag Energy debuts converter

Generator transforms farm waste to electricity

An Eastern Washington startup company aims to sell generators that turn crop stubble into electricity, a high-efficiency idea that could help farmers feed the power grid.

Ag Energy Solutions is showcasing its first product – a farm waste energy converter – at the Palouse Empire Fair in Colfax, Wash., this week.

The company was started by two engineers with roots in farming.

The Colfax fair this week will let farmers kick the tires of his prototype unit, company CEO Philip Appel said. Appel said the company hopes, by early 2015, to produce between 12 and 24 beta machines and install them on farms around the country. The company will then monitor those systems and tweak them to make the generators more efficient.

Appel and co-founder Thomas Weir are both mechanical engineers who see Ag Energy Solutions tackling the problem of excessive farm waste and cutting farm energy bills.

The pair founded the company in 2010, with headquarters in the Whitman County outpost of Dusty, in the rolling Palouse wheat fields. Ag Energy Solutions also leases office space from Innovate Washington’s building in downtown Spokane.

Appel, who hails from the Palouse, said he’ll be at the fair Thursday through Sunday helping explain how the generator works. His team will gather up straw and other biomass and feed it into the generator two or three times per day, then open up the unit to display the interior.

Inside is a series of tubes and a generator that produces a combustible gas that can be burned to produce electricity, he said.

The company’s system can help in reducing energy costs and waste handling, Appel said.

Farmers relying on irrigation could install the generator close to pump stations to reduce electricity use. “We’re seeing interest from farmers in the Basin who have huge energy costs from irrigation,” he said.

Wheat farmers generally don’t rely on irrigation but also face costs in dealing with high volumes of field residue, Appel said.

Those farmers can use the generator to reduce field waste instead of relying on current practices, which include hauling away some of the leftover stubble, repeated tilling and adding fertilizers.

Wheat farmers have been so successful at producing higher yields that they’ve also added the burden of larger piles of stubble, Appel said. Some farmers give huge loads of stubble to mushroom farmers, who truck the waste to Canada.

The generation system would also allow farmers to sell excess energy back to the power grid.

The pre-production unit at the fair is one of two basic models Ag Energy Solutions hopes to produce: One will produce 50 kilowatts of energy and the other will produce 125 kilowatts. The prices to use the beta systems are $80,000 for the smaller unit, $125,000 for the larger. Full warranties come with the contracts, Appel said.

With no deals signed yet, the fair will be important in giving farmers a chance to see the system in person, Appel said.

Ag Energy Solutions is also showcasing a software tool the company developed to help farmers identify the rate of return for the investment.