As the world searches for alternative sources of energy, Bill Jorgenson ’65 is exploring an option that he acknowledges is not particularly glamorous: cow poop and garbage.
Jorgenson is the managing partner of AGreen Energy LLC (AGE), an organization that has developed a process to not only generate sustainable energy from what would otherwise be waste, but also to maintain the viability of small farms.
The process is fairly simple: farmers can install large anaerobic digesters on their farms that mix manure and organic waste, such as leftover food from a mess hall. An enzymatic process releases methane from the manure, and the methane can then be cleaned and burned to power a generator.
“The farmers only use about 10 percent of the electricity they create, then the other 90 percent they sell up to the grid,” explained Jorgenson. “A small farm of 300 to 500 head of cattle can heat somewhere around 300 homes” — which means that the farmers earn extra income.
AGE’s process is designed to maximize the use of resources in other ways as well. The leftover mixture of manure and feedstock can be recycled as a high-efficiency, low-pollution fertilizer.
Also, because all generators lose some energy to heat from friction, AGE has designed a method of capturing that heat and feeding it into greenhouses.
“The farmers will be growing vegetables in the wintertime,” explained Jorgenson. “The largest single cost that you have when running a greenhouse is energy. This is free, though, because it is the heat from the generator that would otherwise be wasted.”
The organization is currently working with small dairy farmers in Massachusetts to build the first pilot projects, and Jorgenson’s goal is that AGE’s system will one day assist small farmers across the country.
Although he and his partners only started AGE in 2006, Jorgenson has bountiful experience at every level of the agri-food and renewable energy fields. He is an expert on the biofuel industry, with which he has been involved nearly since its inception.
Jorgenson has also managed the operations of the Quaker Oats Co. in Latin America, advised universities and even countries about sustainable development, and founded his own consulting business, SJH and Co., which advises the world’s largest agri-food companies on issues like developing more efficient agriculture.
He even patented a process, later acquired by John Deere, for tracking food products all the way from the farm to the table, which is critical when tracking foodborne illnesses like salmonella to their source.
For Jorgenson, AGE is something of a culmination of all that he has done so far, “and it comes at a time when everybody says you should retire.”
Instead of retiring, “which has no appeal to me at all,” he said, Jorgenson is splitting his time between his consulting work with SJH, and the AGE project. He relishes the challenge of working one day with the world’s largest corporations to design a more water-efficient method of growing tomatoes, and the next day with small farmers trying to ensure that their businesses can survive into the next generation.
“Usually everybody wants to do things big,” Jorgenson observed. “What’s the end economic benefit, and when will somebody come along with a big treasure chest of money and buy you out? Well, in this case, the buyout is that the next generation gets to keep the farm.”