Farmers are generating renewable energy and making money from cow poop
With the help of a biogas recovery system, a family-run dairy farm in northern Indiana is transforming cow manure into electricity. It is an environmentally friendly method, where they make use of the 70,000 gallons of manure and urine that are produced by its 3,400 cows daily. Revenue is also generated as they supply the electricity produced to a local utility company.
The electricity generated by waste is enough to power 1,000 homes. Other perks include reducing the distinctive odour that emanates from the farm, cutting down on methane and carbon dioxide emissions, and reducing water pollution. In addition, manure is also converted into nutrient-rich fertilizer with the help of the system’s anaerobic digester, generating further revenue when sold.
It is a system that benefits all.
The system functions by collecting the manure and transporting it to the anaerobic digester, which is usually in a covered lagoon or tank. There, the manure is rapidly decomposed by bacteria, releasing biogas that is subsequently treated and ready to be used as energy.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch. Such a system has a high initial cost and there are insufficient subsidies or grants available in the U.S. to offset the cost of such an investment. As such, few farms have adopted the system.
In U.S., there are currently about 250 farms that possess operational biogas recovery systems, even though 8,000 farms across the country are large enough to support and make such a system economically viable. According to the estimated figures from the Natural Resources Defense Council, if all these U.S. farms are able to install biogas recovery systems, they would not only produce sufficient energy but significantly reduce methane emissions to roughly equal the impact of taking 6.5 million cars off the road.
Meanwhile in Germany, there are currently over 5,000 anaerobic digesters in operation due to better government support.
Nevertheless, the U.S. is stepping up their game. In 2014, the EPA released the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, which identifies actions that can be taken by the U.S. to cut down on its greenhouse gas emissions. This includes increasing the use of anaerobic digesters. The roadmap also allocated $10 million to new digester research funding.