Renewable energy holds great potential; energy sources such as wind, sun, biofuels, microbes, and biomass promise a significant boost to our economy while promoting an energy alternative that minimizes our impact on the environment. The primary goal of the renewable energy program at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is to increase utilization of renewable energy in production agriculture and support further development of agriculture-based renewable energy for the region, state and nation through research and outreach.
The agricultural industry consumes an immense amount of fossil-fuel in the production of food, feed, fiber, and energy. This can carry significant economic, environmental and ecological risks. Scientists and engineers at the WCROC have been looking at ways to mitigate these risks and exploit opportunities for agricultural producers and other stakeholders.
We are currently pursuing a Greening of Ag Initiative, with the overall objective of reducing fossil-fuel consumption in agricultural production systems through renewable energy generation, energy conservation, and energy optimization of production systems. Our goal is to conduct research and develop results that guide producers in developing energy optimized systems for their farms. These outcomes are primarily for Minnesota farmers, but may also apply to farmers in the global community.
Ammonia & Hydrogen Production
Using a globally-unique pilot plant and hydrogen, we are harnessing the power of the wind to drive the production of nitrogen fertilizer. Our team is developing renewable technologies and methods all toward the goal of improving the carbon footprint with production agriculture. We are also developing a small-scale ammonia synthesis system using water and air, powered by wind energy.
Energy Systems for Swine
Pork producers need innovating housing systems that help address environmental and energy concerns while remaining competitive in the global market. Swine facilities at the WCROC demonstrate potential energy-efficient retrofits, which include solar panels on our swine finishing barn, an electric heat pump designed to cool sows, and in-floor heat exchangers for piglets. Learn more.
The typical dairy farm uses large amounts of energy in the milking activity. In effort to provide producers with ways to off-set the demand for high energy, we've used our own milking parlor as a demonstration site by installing energy efficient technologies. The end result is that we can produce, on-site, the same amount of energy that is needed to harvest milk, making our parlor net-zero. Learn more.
Renewable Energy Systems
Research is conducted on several types of large- and small-scale renewable energy systems at the WCROC. Systems located onsite include a 1.65 MW wind turbine, solar thermal systems for domestic hot water and space cooling and heating, a geothermal system and a renewable hydrogen and ammonia pilot plant. The wind, solar and geothermal energy systems installed at the WCROC are practical production systems that also provide research and demonstration opportunities.
Current Projects & News
- Autonomous mower
- Small scale ammonia synthesis
- Transitioning MN farms to local energy
- Visit our Project Page for a complete list of sponsored projects
In order to make improvements toward conserving energy use on farms, we're monitoring energy outputs on crop, dairy, and swine farms. By conducting energy audits and life cycle assessment, we can analyze the flow of resources and work toward reducing energy inputs within agricultural production systems. Learn more.