Happy #CowAppreciationDay to us all. You probably know that our bovine friends, lovable though they may be, produce a ton of polluting gas — with a greater impact on our climate than automobiles, by some estimates. But did you know that their emissions can be captured and converted into energy?
An organization called Sustainable Conservation is helping dairy farms do just that. From the nonprofit’s website:
Electricity from methane digesters on dairy farms can be used on site (thereby reducing the farmer’s energy costs), and the surplus can be sold to a public or private utility. The electricity can replace some power from fossil-fuel plants, which account for approximately 20% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The biogas from methane digesters can be refined to produce vehicle fuel, known as biomethane or “cow power.” The manure on California dairies could produce enough biomethane to power more than 100,000 vehicles. Dairy digesters can also reduce the risk of excess manure nutrients polluting waterways, including groundwater.
Converting cow manure into renewable energy prevents harmful methane from reaching the atmosphere. This is important because methane on dairy farms accounts for the majority of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. If methane digesters were installed on most California dairies, they would protect the climate as much as taking more than one million cars off the road — about 5% of the state’s total.
This technology is more than 200 years in the making. Way back in 1808, a researcher named Humphrey Davy conducted the first laboratory experiments on producing methane though anaerobic digestion of manure, according to Pennsylvania State University’s agricultural extension. Davy’s research paved the way for more sophisticated research and technologies, and today, biogas recovery systems are in use at hundreds of farms across the U.S. — and are technically feasible at thousands of dairy and hog farms, per AgSTAR.
Want to learn more about how these clever systems work? Check out what the EPA has to say about it.