Farm Generates Biogas to Power Volvo Electric Compact Loader

A dairy farm in central Pennsylvania is the first in the United States to add a Volvo electric loader to its daily operations, and the first to put circularity into […]

A dairy farm in central Pennsylvania is the first in the United States to add a Volvo electric loader to its daily operations, and the first to put circularity into practice by using recovered biogas to charge the machine.

Molly Pitcher Dairy uses their Volvo L25 Electric compact loader to push feed to its 800-head of dairy cows, in addition to moving bedding and loading the grain mixer.

Molly Pitcher Dairy in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, milks 800 head daily and is one of seven cattle farms across three states owned by the six Jones brothers as part of a family business that includes custom harvesting and commercial trucking operations.

The agriculture community shares ambitions with the corporate world to be more sustainable. Molly Pitcher Dairy is a prime example of how agribusiness can use the latest advances in equipment technology to offset its carbon footprint. This proactive mindset is what led to owner Keith Jones’ purchase of a new Volvo L25 Electric compact wheel loader.

The Shippensburg dairy houses a 1.5-million-gallon anerobic digester that recycles solid and liquid waste from the cows, along with other food waste collected from local sources, and produces biogas that is used to generate electricity that powers the farm and is sold back to the local grid.

“This dairy runs 24/7, so the more electric that I can use, the better it is for us economically and for the environment. That is why I was interested in this new electric loader from Volvo,” says owner Keith Jones.

In November, representatives from Volvo and local dealer Highway Equipment & Supply delivered the loader and provided operator training.

The loader is working about eight hours across a 24-hour window, without requiring a charge, pushing feed in the barns, loading the grain mixer, and distributing bedding material. Six lithium-ion batteries power the machine — 40 kWh traction battery capacity at full charge.

The electric version offers the same capacities as its diesel counterpart, but with faster responsiveness due to its electric over electric hydraulic system, that gives instant power and peak torque. With a tipping height of 13.9 inches (4193 mm) and max tipping load of 7,496 lbs (3400 kg) with 1.17 yd3 bucket, the loader can easily load and dump grain from the dairy’s feed bins to the mixer. The batteries act as a counterweight for added stability and lifting power. The machine has a universal quick coupler so the dairy can easily swap the bucket for its custom feed blade or sweeper.

The L25 Electric compact loader has the same capacities and tip height as its diesel counterpart.

“Compared to a skid steer or telehandler, the Volvo loader gives much better visibility because you are sitting much higher in the cab,” says dairy manager James St. Onge.

“I also like how the articulation joint acts like a knuckle, the way it bends in both ways,” says James. “It makes it very smooth for the operator when driving across uneven terrain, and there is less wear on the tires than using a skid steer.”

The charge for the loader comes from a 180-kWh electric generator that is powered by biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, largely derived from cow waste. (The average dairy cow can produce up to 120 lbs (54 kg) of solid and liquid waste per day. Around 70,000 lbs (31,751 kg) of slurry per day is funneled into the digester, using an automated scraper and funneling system from the barns.

In addition to capturing methane, the process eliminates odors while producing a nutrient-rich effluent. Digesters have been around in some format for hundreds of years but are still uncommon in the U.S.; Pennsylvania has 16 large-scale digesters in operation across the state, according to Penn State University.

A 1.5 million gallon anaerobic digester converts animal waste into biogas which is to power an electric generator on the farm and surplus is sold back to the local power grid.

We produce enough gas to power our generator for the farm, plus sell excess back to the local power grid. In addition, the manure solids are separated in the digester then dried and reused as bedding material for the cows,” says Corey Mellott, operations manager. “To put the volume of biogas into perspective, if the average home uses 1500 kWh of power, we can power about 60 homes for one month.”

James is fast realizing the biggest eye-opener between diesel and electric equipment: how much time the machine is on standby versus actual operation. He says, “We are finding that we don’t have to charge it daily, since when it’s idle it’s not ‘running.’ The farm has 220-power so AC charging time is around three hours to bring it from 30% or lower to full charge.”

Volvo product manager Lars Arnold sees the dairy as the perfect application for an electric loader. “The loader is performing a range of jobs over a 24-hour period with the benefits of no noise, zero exhaust and zero cost to charge,” he says.

Electric Machines eliminate the maintenance required by their diesel counterparts. Lars explains, “Essentially, the only supplies required are grease and hydraulic oil. This is much different than a conventional machine that requires fluid, filter, and component checks as often as every day, with additional preventive fluid and filter maintenance.”

The L25 Electric is one of six commercially-available electric compact machines available now in North America through the Volvo dealer network. Leasing packages and financing options are also available, as well as state and federal purchasing incentives for qualifying equipment.

The most important customer feedback at Molly Pitcher Dairy came from the herd. Says James, “It took the cows a few passes with the loader to realize it was feeding time because they didn’t hear it driving down the barn aisles. It’s very quiet, and for the cows, that is very nice,” he says.

FARM GENERATES BIOGAS TO POWER VOLVO ELECTRIC COMPACT LOADER

A dairy farm in central Pennsylvania is the first in the United States to add a Volvo electric loader to its daily operations, and the first to put circularity into practice by using recovered biogas to charge the machine.

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