By the end of January, manure produced by cattle in Kewaunee County is expected to be fueling semi-trucks and buses in California, the result of a facility now under construction at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy.

Ground was broken Wednesday for a processing facility that will convert the gas from Pagel’s biodigester system into what’s being called renewable natural gas, which burns much more cleanly than diesel fuel, said Mark R. Hill Jr., vice president of operations for DTE Biomass Energy.

DTE, an acronym for Detroit Edison, has been operating similar projects for 30 years and now has 20 facilities around the country, all of them using landfill gases, Hill said.

“This is our first foray into manure gas,” he said.

The gas from Pagel’s digester is about 60 percent methane, 40 percent carbon dioxide. The facility will compress the gas and pass it through a series of membranes that strip off the carbon dioxide, leaving “pure, pipeline-quality methane,” Hill said.

The methane will be trucked to a new DTE facility in Newton, about 40 miles south of Kewaunee, where it will be injected into a pipeline.

“This gas goes to California, where it actually gets consumed in an engine,” said David Kailbourne, CEO of Pennsylvania-based REV LNG, a “diversified liquified natural gas and compressed natural gas distribution and solutions company” that is developing the facility with DTE Biomass Energy. “It gets consumed in a big 18-wheeler truck fleet, it gets consumed in city buses, and it displaces diesel fuel … with renewable natural gas that’s made right here in Wisconsin.”  

“We know a thing or two about taking dirty biogas, and refining it and purifying it and making it into a renewable resource,” said Kevin Dobson, DTE vice president of business development. 

A drawing of the renewable natural gas facility for which ground was broken at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy on Wednesday, Aug. 8.

The natural gas that will come from the facility is indistinguishable from the natural gas that comes out of the ground, hence the label “renewable” natural gas, Dobson said.

The gas just from Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, once refined into RNG and put into vehicles, will save greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing roughly 9,200 fossil-fuel-burning vehicles from the road every year, about 5 million gallons of gasoline, Dobson said.

“It’s a phenomenal environmental benefit from this project,” he said. “We can’t be more proud.”

J.J. Pagel said the new facility is a tribute to the vision of his father, John, who died in February but started the conversations with DTE Biomass Energy and REV LNG.

“Our family has always tried to be on the cutting edge of innovation,” Pagel said.

The companies have already received necessary permits from the state Department of Natural Resources and other regulatory entities, and the target date to be up and running is mid-January, company officials said.