Jan. 14, Ohio State University:

US (OH): Greenhouse operators invited to natural gas workshop

With Ohio continuing to experience relatively low natural gas prices, more farmers, greenhouse operators and other agricultural producers are considering substituting natural gas for other fossil fuels.

Those who want to know more about the pros and cons of doing so may attend “Natural Gas Utilization by Ohio Agriculture,” a 9 a.m.-4 p.m. workshop on Jan. 14 at Ohio State University’s Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Centre, 2201 Fred Taylor Drive, Columbus.

The event, including lunch, is free, but space is limited and registration in advance is required. To register, contact Mike Kositzke, project coordinator of Ohio State’s Subsurface Energy Resource Center (SERC), at 614-688-1566 or kositzke.2@osu.edu.

The workshop is sponsored by SERC and Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“With the low prices of natural gas the past few years, plus all of the shale gas development in the state, natural gas has gotten the attention of a lot of people, including farmers,” said workshop organizer Douglas Southgate, professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics and associate director of SERC. “They’re wondering if they can save some coin by switching to natural gas.”

Growers located near gas drilling sites or pipelines that can be tapped have the most options, he said. In fact, many greenhouse growers have already jumped on the natural gas bandwagon, he said.

“If you have a greenhouse operation anywhere close to a natural gas pipeline, you’re probably already using natural gas,” Southgate said.

He added that Ohio has always been “pipeline-dense” but is becoming even more so now with extensive pipeline installations occurring to transport natural gas from shale drill sites.

However, using natural gas instead of traditional energy sources on farms doesn’t always make sense, Southgate said.

For one thing, fuelling combines or other heavy equipment with natural gas, which would require retrofitting the machinery to accommodate canisters and would force a farmer to drive the machinery back to a central fuelling station in the middle of trying to complete an operation in the field, probably wouldn’t be worthwhile, he said. With diesel, a fuel truck can be driven out to the field for periodic fill-ups.

Also, natural gas has less energy density, or British thermal units per volume, than diesel fuel, Southgate said. Compressed natural gas has about one-sixth the Btu as diesel fuel, while liquefied natural gas has about two-thirds the Btu as diesel. That means more natural gas than diesel would be needed for the same operation, he said.

Still, given the right circumstances -- choosing natural gas for grain drying, for example -- the price difference between the fuel sources often makes natural gas an economical choice, Southgate said.

In addition, farmers need to know other details before deciding to adopt natural gas as a fuel source, he said, such as whether it would be advantageous to join other fuel consumers to purchase gas as a group.

On the other hand, farmers and other landowners offered the chance to take ownership of an old well nearing the end of its useful life need to know the fine print associated with doing so.

“Before you decide to take over ownership, you need to know the responsibilities and potential liabilities of accepting a ‘free’ well,” Southgate said.

The workshop’s sessions will include information on those topics and more:

  • Energy density and other key concepts by Jim Durand of Ohio State’s Centre for Auto Research.
  • The JD Power experience with natural gas-powered engines, by Jeff Leach and Glenn McIntosh, JD Power.
  • Natural gas versus other energy sources for greenhouse enterprises by Peter Ling of the college’s research arm, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Centre.
  • Natural gas aggregation and marketing programs by Brooke Leslie of Nisource.
  • Experiences with natural gas aggregation, a panel led by Dale Arnold, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, featuring Joe Perlaky, Maumee Valley Growers’ Association; Kirk Mezerek of Palmer Energy; and Mitchell Wyre, from grain elevator operator Granville Milling.
  • What farmers offered the opportunity to tap into a gas pipeline need to know, by Steve Irwin, Ohio Power Siting Board.
  • What farmers offered an old oil or gas well for “free” need to know, by William Ziegler Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

See more information about what Ohio State offers regarding energy resources such as natural gas at the Subsurface Energy Resource Centre website at http://serc.osu.edu/.

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