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What do you think of when somebody says Hydronics?
Most people would probably think about heating or cooling a house or a building of some sort. I used to think that way. I don't anymore, and for good reason. Hydronics can be a very effective solution in an infinite number of different applications that we don't always think about when somebody mentions the word Hydronics.
That being said, I would like to share how a Hydronic system can slash a Dairy Farmer's existing utility bill by a good percentage and increase milk production and butterfat content at the same time. My brother owns a Dairy Farm and we stuck our heads together for this solution. He is smarter than me but, I know how to make things work ;-)
First a brief explanation of how a milking system is setup. We have a refrigerated bulk milk tank, a vacuum pump, a milk receiver tank and from the receiver tank lines running out to the milkers. More detail is not needed on that end.
So, the vacuum pump is connected to the receiver tank. The line that carries the milk in from the cows in the milking parlor is also connected to the receiver tank. The vacuum is what makes the milkers work. There is a pump connected to the bottom of the receiver tank that has to overcome the vacuum and pump the milk into the refrigerated bulk tank. The pump is operated by a probe that sticks down into the receiver tank. The probe measures 2 levels. when it hits the top level the pumps kicks on and pumps it to the bottom level. Takes about three seconds.
The milk in the bulk tank is stored at about 40°F and once cooled is not allowed to warm up again until you are drinking it. So before you start pumping all that warm milk in there, you have to run the compressors for a while and make the milk that's already in the tank really cold. If you didn't the milk would get to warm.
You see how inefficient all that is! Here is what we did.
First the pump setup. We switched it to a 3-phase motor driven by a VFD. I had a custom probe built for the receiver tank. It measures the level of the milk in the tank, feeds this info back to the VFD and the pump speeds up and slows down as it needs to. It is always running but always at the minimum speed needed. By doing this the milk doesn't get agitated in the impellor as much and you end up with a higher butterfat content. That is important because they get paid on the butterfat content.
Next we installed a plate and frame heat exchanger inline between the pump and the bulk tank. The milk goes through one side and cold ground water through the other. This cools the milk down to about 60°F before it hits the bulk tank. Now the compressors do not have to be run preemptive to the milking. the can just proceed with normal operation.
So what to do with all the water? Well, after the water exits the heat exchanger, it is considerably warmer. So we run it through radiant tubing in the concrete slab in the milking parlor. Why not! It adds a little heat to an otherwise unheated space and it keeps ice from forming when everything gets washed down after a milking.
Cool, right! We aren't done yet.
In the winter time, people and cows don't like to drink much water. It's cold and drinking cold water can make us feel colder. Cows are just like us. They like it the best when things feel good. So when the cows drink less water, they also produce less milk. Makes sense, right. They are mildly dehydrated. They will drink warmer water in the wintertime though!
You see where I'm going with this don't you?
After the water exits the slab it is still warmer than the ground water. It runs into a watering trough for the cows. Boy, they slurp down that fresh, and warmer water right down. Now the watering trough doesn't freeze anymore and the cows give more milk.
What could be wrong with that? More milk, more money! Oh, and no ice to break.
The cows can't drink all the water though. There is an overflow on the watering trough and the rest of the water runs underground and dumps into a retention pond. In the summer time, the water in the retention pond gets used to irrigate the crops.
How cool is all that! Hydronics on steroids. My brother is pleased as punch because his profits are higher and his costs are lower. Nothing is wasted.
I am doing another Dairy setup this summer. It will be a little different because it is a stanchion barn where the cows are all inside at the same time. In that system I am going to use the warmer water for the cows to drink in the winter and in the summer I am going to use it to cool the barn.
Hydronics are fun :-)