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Fall 2012
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New York Dairy Leads the Way as Renewable Energy Producer

By Holly McIntyre

John Noble

There’s a revolution under way in the dairy industry, embracing new technologies that protect the environment while improving the bottom line.

John Noble, a 1976 Agricultural Sciences graduate and president of Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, N.Y., has been at the forefront of this movement since 2003 when the farm installed one of the first biogas digesters in the area and started turning cow manure into electricity.

Adopting new technologies can be risky, and Cornell has been instrumental in providing him with training and tools that inform decisions he makes for his business, said Noble, also the president and chief executive officer of Synergy Dairy in Covington, N.Y.

Today, Noble is still part of scaling up the technology. Under Noble’s leadership, Synergy Dairy has partnered with CH4 Biogas and Synergy Biogas to establish a co-digester next to the 1,850-cow dairy. Digester technology processes dairy manure and food waste from local processing plants, turning it into biogas that powers a 1.4-megawatt generator.

The digester currently operates at about 80 percent capacity. Noble said he hopes the facility will receive enough waste material by the end of 2013 to run at full capacity.

At that time, the digester will produce enough electricity to power 1,000 homes and displace 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Not only does the facility produce electricity from renewable fuels, the process also separates the waste into a dry component that is recycled as bedding for the cows and a nutrient-rich liquid component that the farm uses to fertilize its fields, reducing the amount of commercial fertilizer the farm must purchase.

Plus, the neighbors appreciate that the digested waste has no odor when it’s spread on the fields.

“In the bigger scheme, we are destroying carbon, which is a positive for the environment,” Noble said.

His Cornell education and continued relationship with the university has encouraged him to challenge himself and to engage with solutions that improve environmental stewardship in the dairy industry, Noble said.
“Cornell has been integral in helping farmers think through the economics, design and engineering and how does it fit with the environment and interact with the community,” he said.

During his more than 30 years in the dairy industry, Noble, a member of the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Advisory Council, has carried lessons he learned as a student with him. “Cornell is always trying to help us think outside the box,” he said.