For small businesses — especially agricultural businesses — energy is a major factor affecting their success.

So, the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teamswork with small businesses to help them find ways to lower their energy costs through energy efficiency and renewable energy options.

Fritz Ebinger, rural energy development program manager with CERTs, said there have been several grants given recently through the USDA's Rural Energy for America Program to small agribusinesses in southeast Minnesota. One great example, he said, is a grant that allowed a turkey farm to save on propane costs, a major expense for turkey producers.

The waste-heat recovery system installed at P & J Products, a turkey farm in Northfield. "That's an up-and-coming technology for poultry," Ebinger said. "Last winter when propane costs were really high, we helped them with this technology that is one of the ways to capture the energy that's coming out of your farm."

Turkey producers, Ebinger said, need to keep the temperature at 91 to 93 degrees for the birds. What often happens is turkey producers essentially blow hot air through their bird barns, exhausting a lot of heat energy into the environment. The waste-heat recovery system captures some of that heat before it is expelled and uses it to warm incoming air.

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"The system exhausts that air through tubes past the fresh air," Ebinger said. "Instead of the fresh air going from 0 degrees to 90 degrees, you're going from 50-60 degrees to 90 degrees." And that means less propane is needed to heat the fresh air to the optimal temperature.

John Zimmerman, owner of P & J Products, said the propane shortage from last year had folks in the turkey industry looking for ways to reduce their energy costs and reduce their reliance on liquid propane so the available stock of the resource would go farther. "We had conferences about lessening reliance on propane," Zimmerman said.

As part of his work with the Turkey Growers Association, Zimmerman had heard about a new technology being tested in Missouri as part of a University of Missouri program. That technology took hot exhaust air and ran it through a series of tubes. Cold, fresh air was circulated over those tubes to capture some of that waste heat and reuse it before the fresh air was heated the rest of the way.

The lead professor in Missouri had installed the system into some farms there, but wanted to try it in some more northerly climates to see if the technology would benefit farmers who have to deal with an even colder winter.

So far, so good, Zimmerman says. He had applied for a REAP grantwith the help of the CERTs teams last August, and had the energy efficient system installed early this spring. "We ran it for a couple of flocks already," he said. "The farms in Missouri found a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in propane needs. Next winter will be the true test of the system."

The system looks like it will have additional benefits. The more propane you burn, the more moisture you pump into your barn, he said. "We will have a drier barn," Zimmerman said. "You will grow a healthier bird."