How Cutting-Edge Dairy Technologies Are Shaping Brookings' Economic and Environmental Future

How Cutting-Edge Dairy Technologies Are Shaping Brookings' Economic and Environmental Future Main Photo

26 Jun 2024


As we celebrate National Dairy Month this June, it's essential to recognize the dairy industry's vital role in the economic landscape of Brookings, South Dakota. Dairies in this region are not just about producing milk; they are pivotal in driving economic growth and fostering sustainable development through innovative practices like producing renewable natural gas (RNG). These advancements are transforming the local economy and positioning Brookings as a leader in sustainable agricultural practices.

Turning Waste into Wealth: Renewable Natural Gas

One of the most groundbreaking developments in Brookings is the transformation of dairy cattle manure into renewable natural gas. This innovative process, showcased by NorthWestern Energy and its commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, highlights how dairies contribute to a sustainable future while boosting the local economy.

On April 22, 2024, NorthWestern Energy CEO Brian Bird turned the valve at a new renewable natural gas injection site in Brookings, marking a significant milestone. This facility processes biogas derived from dairy manure into pipeline-grade natural gas, enough to supply around 10,000 residential customers annually.

The process begins on dairy farms, where manure is collected and stored in on-site tanks. In these tanks, the absence of oxygen allows microbes to break down the waste, producing biogas. This biogas is refined to remove impurities such as moisture, carbon dioxide, and sulfur and is repurposed as fertilizer for farm fields. The refined biogas is transported to Northwestern Energy's facility, where it is injected into the local natural gas supply, blending seamlessly with traditionally sourced gas.

Jo Dee Black, Public Relations Specialist at NorthWestern Energy, explained the environmental impact, “Methane that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere is captured, conditioned for quality, and used in the natural gas system. Due to the capture process, RNG is usually a carbon-negative fuel and will help offset unavoidable emissions.”

Economic and Environmental Benefits for Dairy Farmers

This RNG initiative presents a new economic opportunity for dairy farmers. Paul Mantz, Manager of National Accounts and Education at Northwestern Energy, pointed out, "Brookings is the first RNG facility we brought online in South Dakota. This will provide another economic value stream or revenue stream for dairy farmers to produce renewable natural gas and validate companies like us, who can get to end users; that would be one of the economic benefits."

The RNG project is a win for the environment and a boom for the local economy. The initiative bolsters Brookings' economic resilience by creating a revenue stream for farmers and enhancing the local natural gas supply without increasing consumer costs. Mantz added, "We are proud that we can bring this benefit to our customers at no additional cost."

Scaling Up for a Sustainable Future

NorthWestern Energy's commitment to sustainability extends beyond the current project. By 2025, the company aims to integrate RNG from five additional facilities into its South Dakota distribution system, reinforcing the local energy infrastructure and supporting the dairy industry's growth. Black elaborated, "With various business advantages, its availability appeals to major industrial players as they map out their expansion strategies. Renewable natural gas is considered an economic development tool for South Dakota."

As Brookings embraces these advancements, public education remains a priority. Efforts include community events, press releases, and engaging with local stakeholders to highlight the benefits of RNG. This proactive approach ensures that the community understands and supports the sustainable initiatives transforming their local economy.

Pioneering Sustainable Growth: Brookings' Dairy Industry Leads the Way

In Brookings, the dairy industry is a powerful engine for economic growth and sustainability. Through innovative projects like the renewable natural gas initiative, dairies are leading the charge in creating a greener future while strengthening the local economy. This National Dairy Month, let's celebrate the incredible contributions of our dairy farmers and the innovative solutions they bring to our community.

If you would like to learn more about how Brookings drives economic development through sustainable agriculture or want to explore opportunities in the region, visit BEDC or contact us today to learn how we can help.  

Together, we can continue to foster growth and innovation in our vibrant community.

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