Our Town: Using cattle to power up Amana

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 8:58 PM CDT
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AMANA, Iowa (KCRG) - The source of energy in the Amana Colonies isn’t nuclear or coal. It’s cattle.

Or, rather, what cows produce when they digest their dinner.

“We’re converting the energy that was in hay and straw and corn and things like that and maybe some food waste that we got in and turning that into electrical power,” said John McGrath, the Amana Farms Director.

The manure slips through the rubber mats where 1,250 head of cattle live. From there, the manure goes to an underground digester near the confinement.

“A digester and a cow’s stomach are essentially the same things they can break down organic things in an anaerobic environment meaning no oxygen,” McGrath said.

The digester makes methane. Then that methane is converted into usable energy in the generation station. Then the power that’s generated is synchronized with the grid that serves the Amana Colonies.  All seven villages get their power from this process with the sole exception of the Whirlpool plant.

And that power starts on the 26,000 acres of farmland the Amana Society also owns where it grows crops to feed the cattle. Then what’s left from the energy process is used as fertilizer for the crops.

“The crops are feeding the cattle, the cattle are feeding the digester, and then the digester are feeding the cropland all over again,” McGrath said.

The energy production is local and the transmission lines are all underground, which makes for few power interruptions.

“This is the greatest place to be in an ice storm or a derecho because there’s no reason for us to lose power and there isn’t much reason that we ever would,” McGrath said.

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