Energy from cow flatulence

[ Other “energy alternatives” in the Far Out category of menu item Energy include escaping to Mars, liposuction fat, whirlwinds, playground power, garbage, tornadoes, and turning seawater into fuel.   

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Alexander, K. September 29, 2016. Climate fight targeting cows may reshape California dairies. San Francisco Chronicle.

Legislation signed this month by Gov. Jerry Brown requires California’s dairy industry to answer for its contribution to global warming by making a 40% cut in methane emissions in coming years. The gas, which heats the atmosphere 20 times faster than carbon dioxide, comes from the butts and burps of bovines.

One U.N. report blames livestock for 14.5% of the planet’s heat-trapping gases, as much as planes, trains and automobiles combined. So far livestock have escaped climate regulations.

The challenge of cutting methane could reshape the 1,500 dairy farms that dot California — only about a dozen of which own methane digesters. Farmers say the new law, and the money and equipment needed to comply with it, could deal some in the industry a fatal blow as they already struggle with low milk prices, rising labor costs and drought.

Adding to the pressure, many environmentalists are pushing to tighten the crackdown on methane. The legislation, they say, didn’t demand deep enough cuts — and could lead to unforeseen problems like pollution from methane digesters, which work by isolating cow manure in airtight chambers where the waste breaks down and releases methane gas for power or fuel, cost several hundred thousand dollars and require considerable upkeep. Many of the digesters in California have stopped working.

A more proven way to limit emissions is to get dairy cows out of their crowded stalls and into the pasture. This allows the manure to decompose naturally and spew less methane into the atmosphere. The practice, though, is criticized as time-consuming and land-intensive.

The digester at Giacomini’s ranch, which is smaller than some that are used on larger dairy farms in the Central Valley, was recently retrofitted with a new engine so that it runs more cleanly and efficiently.  He paid about $100,000 for the upgrade on top of the $600,000 outlay for the system. Grants helped him cover nearly two-thirds of the initial cost, and Giacomini says he couldn’t have afforded the equipment without them.

The digester runs 24 hours a day. It collects runoff from cow stalls in a 2-acre drainage basin, where methane from manure is captured under a huge tarp and piped to a generator. About 70 kilowatts of electricity are produced, enough to power all the facilities on the ranch except the administrative building. In the evening there’s surplus power to sell back to the grid.

 

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5 Responses to Energy from cow flatulence

  1. Rutger says:

    Human population growth would not be a problem if we could simply adjust our living standards downward as population rises in an effort to bring our consumption in line with available resources and the planets tolerance to handle waste.

    Our issue is one of overshoot of the carrying capacity of the planet, not overpopulation. Hypothetically, if we reduce our consumption of resources and generation of waste down to 1% of current rates across the board, we could have 100% greater population and be in no worse a position as we are today. That’s not to say population growth is not an issue, but it’s far from the crux of it.

    • Rutger says:

      Yours is a typical objections to my point, no doubt you assume it’s impossible, or that life would become intolerable, but this is not true. Yes, humans would be required to scale back on their quality of life (we can measure this as self-reported happiness if we like), but in fact that is not true, merely we would have reduced standard of living (in this context, products of fossilized energy consumed). It’s widely accepted that one can scale back consumption, whilst paradoxically increasing their quality of life. Feeding 7.5 billion, or 9 billion for that matter will be a challenge without industrial agriculture and failing ecosystems and stripped top soils, but regenerative permaculture practices could make up for our failing systems. We desperately need to learn to close our loops.

      Yes, a society that scales back consumption of energy intensive products would look very different, but that’s not to say life without high technology would not be enjoyable or meaningful.

      I agree with you however the major challenge is making people want to change, or somehow forcing them to do so, I have no answers here. Maybe it will come sooner, but the pessimist in me thinks it will only come as the conventional mega-oil wells dry up and economics of the globalised industrial machine no longer make sense. Ideally however we need to get there sooner and voluntarily if it is not to be overwhelming and traumatic for those unprepared.

      • Rutger says:

        I might add, this is from the perspective of typical white male middle class westerner doing his best to resist the temptations of industrial civilsation, and not someone unfortunate enough to already be struggling from the worst effects of pollution, climate catastrophe and failing crops, I appreciate my suggestion comes across as santamonious, but actually, it’s the best bet we’ve got (in my opinion!)

  2. Global Warming (GW)problem is not simple it is the question of chaging attitude of modern civilization I. E. thr question to solve and to control the “Greedy” -vs-“Needy”
    Mahatma Gandhi our nations father said once ” “The mother earth has sufficient resources to solve the need of the population of earth but not the greed of the population. In 21st century ,the millenium of Globaluzation and Technology, we the members of mother earth with 9.5 billion populationand 3 trillion solid wastes, should start to change our life style in consuming packed synthetic products and eating of meat foods,the same have generated more carbon print then we expected.We must be vegetarian and should use more public trasport and slowly to change cosuming life to reduce emissions.WE must increase our recycling and reuse attitude to mitigate GW

    • energyskeptic says:

      We are at the peak of fossil fuel production now or within 10-20 years, then greenhouse gases will relentlessly decline, as well as from a die-off of 6.5 billion people who utterly depend on fossil fuels for fertilizer to grow 5x as much food as otherwise could be grown, and diesel to deliver every single good in every home, store, construction site, and so on. It is far too late to remedy the overshoot we are in, and by orders of magnitude the greatest contribution anyone can make is to not have children.