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Pig farmer wins national award for innovative biogas scheme

EECA Awards 2010 SME Business winner
Steve Lepper, Managing Director of Lepper Trust, receives the SME Award

Taranaki pig farmer Steve Lepper has found an original source of electricity - his own pigs.

Steve's farm, the Lepper Trust, was named winner in the Smartpower Small-Medium Business category in the 2010 EECA Awards for an ingenious project that captures gas from the farm's effluent and uses it to produce electricity.

The system consists of a purpose-built effluent pond that can hold 7000 m³ of waste, with a cover that stores the biogas. This gas is piped to a combined heat and power (CHP) unit which processes it to make electricity, and this electricity is then used to power the piggery.

A ‘heat recovery' system is also being installed which will use waste heat to heat water, some of which will replace electric heating for young pigs.

In its first month, the system produced 133m³ of gas per day, and daily electricity use in the piggery dropped by 28%. When fully commissioned, the system is expected to save the farm more than $65,000 a year in electricity costs.

The Lepper biogas project was supported by New Zealand Pork, which itself won a Commendation in the Innovation category for its work researching, and trialling biogas on pig farms. To date, it's helped set up three systems on North Island farms, with more in the pipeline.

As well as cutting the farm's running costs by providing ‘free' electricity, the system eliminates the issue of dealing with waste. There are no disposal costs; the smell (which can be a sore point for neighbours) is removed; and thanks to the anaerobic digestion that happens in the pond, the result at the end of the process is a nutrient-rich - and odour free - fertiliser for the adjacent family farm.

"Dealing with waste and its environmental impact is a major issue across our agricultural sector - not just pig farming. This takes the costly problem of disposal and turns it around to create a business benefit - not just neutralising the problem, but using it in a cunning way to reduce on-farm costs," said EECA Chief Executive Mike Underhill.

"Biogas systems like this could work just as easily on other pig farms, but I hope it inspires other industries to look twice at their waste and see an opportunity. There are already pilots using biogas on dairy farms, for example.

"This also helps cut production costs in an industry where margins are extremely tight and there's intense competition from overseas. New Zealand Pork has really gotten behind the industry with its support for this project and others like it. This is a far-sighted strategy which has the potential to revolutionise New Zealand pig farming."

The title of Supreme Winner in the 2010 EECA Awards went to Downer NZ. It won the Large Business category for its comprehensive programme to tackle energy use across the company, and it won the Innovation category for its fuel efficiency programme combining driver behaviour change with technology such as GPS and in-cab cameras.

The EECA Awards celebrate organisations and individuals who have demonstrated excellence and innovation in energy efficiency or renewable energy. This year, nearly 100 entries were received across the nine categories. Entrants ranged from small businesses to large corporates to outstanding invididuals, spanning public and private sectors and community-based organisations.

arrow iconDownload the Winners Booklet to find out more about the winners and finalists.

Other category winners:

  • Christchurch City Council achieved a double win, taking the Public Sector title for its civic building which is a model of energy efficiency, and the Renewable Energy category for its city-wide system which uses various forms of bioenergy. The council was also Highly Commended in the Innovation category for a world-first tri-generation system which uses biogas to produce heat, electricity and refrigeration.
  • Westpac won the Energy Management category for the energy component of its company-wide Our Tomorrow sustainability programme, which has cut energy use by 21% and CO2 emissions by 28%.
  • Waikato earth-moving and transport firm Ruakuri Contracting won the Transport award for its success in reducing its environmental impact - embracing biodiesel as well as fuel efficiency.
  • The Community award was won by the Energy Efficiency Community Network for an energy advice line for householders that gave expert, tailored advice.
  • Professor Ralph Sims, who leads the Centre for Energy Research at Massey University, won the award for Outstanding Contribution to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.