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Cow Manure --> Electricity 519

jmtpi writes "ABCNews has a story about a dairy farm in Minnesota that uses its cow manure to generate enough electricity to power the farm plus 80 homes and create fertilizer. There's also a more detailed story."
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Cow Manure --> Electricity

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  • by DwarfGoanna ( 447841 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:06PM (#5472651)
    I thought the future was going to get bigger, brighter, better, and flying (cars). Now as I get older, and understand more about population issues, it seems we are going to have to come up with more and more clever ways of re-using waste products. I suppose this is better in the long run (?) but hopefully I will still be able to drive a flying, shit-powered car before I die. Hopefully I can get the OUTATIME vanity plate someone else in my state does.
  • Human waste (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nexum ( 516661 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:07PM (#5472661)
    Anyonw here qualified to know if this could be applied to human waste?

    I would imagine we get a lot less methane out of ours, but these guys seem to be making a fair bit.

    Also does anyone know what kind of pollution levels these things create? It seems like it would be fairly clean but I'm not an expert on burning shit.

  • Re:Hmmm burn coal? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CommieOverlord ( 234015 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:11PM (#5472685)
    Because coal needs to be mined. A dangerous and environmentally unfriendly activity. The shit is already on hand, why not just use it?

    With a proper plant with proper filters, I can't imagine that burning shit is going to be problem. Can't be anyworse than having lie on the ground.
  • Re:pollution? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MQBS ( 264470 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:11PM (#5472688)

    it gets heated up, not burned; no byproduct, and the power from the manure goes to keep it hot. So as long as they can grow food, they have power.
  • Re:pollution? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EllisDees ( 268037 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:13PM (#5472701)
    The methane is being generated no matter how you look at it. So the question is do we just let it escape into the atmosphere or do we burn it, producing energy + H2O + CO2.

    I think this is a great way for these farmers to make some extra cash.
  • Inefficient (Score:-1, Insightful)

    by Ledskof ( 169553 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:14PM (#5472703)
    800 cows to power 80 homes. That's 10 cow per home. That's amazing efficiency.

    I'll just go out back and feed the 10 cows, each of which who consumes more than my entire family.

    I hope no one really thinks this is a good idea.
    We'd be better off using the land wasted on the cows, to produce biodiesel.

    Not that I expected a cow farmer to be the oracle of economic efficiency or anything...
  • Re:Inefficient (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EllisDees ( 268037 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:16PM (#5472711)
    The cows are primarily being used to produce milk. Generating power is just a benefit of recycling their shit. Either way, the same amount of wast is produced, but one way we are doing something useful with it.
  • Re:Inefficient (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ledskof ( 169553 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:23PM (#5472742)
    I'm talking about longer term solution. This isn't one. The farmer is calling this the "way of the future".

    I don't think cows enter into the "way of the future" in any fashion.

    Even producing enough electricity to power their own farm and a few more homes doesn't make up for how inneficient it is compared to other solutions, namely ones that don't include drink milk.
  • Re:Inefficient (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:24PM (#5472749)
    I hope no one really thinks this is a good idea.
    We'd be better off using the land wasted on the cows, to produce biodiesel.

    You like beef? How about milk? Butter? Cream with your coffee? Cheese?

    Guess what, all of these things come from cows! We need cows on hand to make them and we might as well get even more from them while we're at it. You can only use so much fertilizer, so what are we going to do with the rest of the manure? Throwing it out is the pinacle of idiocy. We went to all the trouble to feed the cows the food so let's use what the cows didn't.

    Biodiesel is great and all, but I can't eat it. I can eat cheese and beef. With cows we get food AND some electricity to boot.
  • a positive trend (Score:5, Insightful)

    by updog ( 608318 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:26PM (#5472760) Homepage
    OK, instead of posting some redundant shit joke, consider what this farm and 80 households are doing.

    So this might not be the most technologically amazing invention, and it's clearly not going to solve the world's energy problems. But it is an inspiring example of how a few individuals can actually do something less destructive for the environment without being mandated to do so by government regulations.

    At the risk of sounding trite, consider what you can do to have a less destructive impact on our planet, even if it doesn't involve thousands of gallons of shit a day.

  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:35PM (#5472810)
    Here in central Arkansas, the municipal waste treatment facilities (at least one site) use the gathered methane to power the entire plant, and also supply power to the local grid.

    Cuts costs a bit but doesn't generate a profit (good thing too, or it'd vanish into the city bueracracy thanks to some weird rules!)
  • by slicerace ( 470897 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:38PM (#5472824)
    Nuclear energy isn't renewable, but it provides a large amount of power in a small amount of space.

    Nuclear reactions occur with the fission of uranium-235, which is an extremely rare kind of uranium. However, reactors that are known as "fast-breeder reactors" take in the much more common version of uranium, uranium-238, and "breed" plutonium-239, which can also be fissioned.

    There are a few problems with wind and solar power. Sure, they're cheap and they're clean, but a person has to keep in mind that the sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. So to deal with this, you now need large batteries to store massive amounts of electricity to be used when solar and wind are unable to generate electricity.

    Another inherent problem with solar and wind is the amount of space vs. the amount of energy produced. Both solar and wind energy need large amounts of space to create anywhere near the amount of energy that nuclear produces.

    What about nuclear waste?

    Spent nuclear fuel rods are solids, not liquids or gasses, so they don't "leak". In the past 35 years, there have been over 3,000 transports of nuclear waste across the country totalling 1.7 million miles. There have been 8 "accidents", but none of them ever resulted in any fatalities, environmental damage, etc. The containers that store nuclear waste are DESIGNED to be put through some serious abuse. They're made to sit through jet fuel at temperatures of over 1,200F for long periods of time. They make these things to withstand freefalls from 70 ft up, which is something like the equivalent of a 120mph head on crash.

    Nuclear power rocks.
  • Re:pollution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {srevart.sirhc}> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:45PM (#5472853) Homepage Journal
    The manure is not burned, rather it is "cooked" at 100 degrees (C or F, dunno), and the methane is collected. Yes, methane. Natural gas, in other words. Not the cleanest stuff ever, but it's definitely better than coal.

    Also bear in mind that most of that methane would end up in the atmophere if it wasn't burned and would be a whole lot worse, envirnmentally speaking. Generating electicity *and* helping to prevent polution. It is good to see something like this :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:54PM (#5472887)
    - The storage of nuclear waste is something that *cannot* be thought through and planned completely, because of the ultra-long storage times involved (e.g. many tens of thousends of years). The oldest structures the human race built are, what?, 4 thousand years old, and look at their condition.

    - Fast-breeders sound attractive, but with people like GWB still running the show I would not want to produce more Plutonium, it can be too easily used in nuclear bombs.

    - Maybe it is time people should consider doing something about the other half of the equation: energy-consumption. I've replaced all my lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lights, bought an energy-efficient fridge and washing machine (got me a rebate from the power-company, too). I also switch off all equipment with small power adapters when not in use, they consume a small load 24/7 which adds up. I *halved* my electricity bill, and that is without *any* change in my lifestyle or level of comfort.
    Another idiotic thing is cooking and heating homes electrically. Electricity is the highest form of power, and it is wasted on heating. Cooking on natural gas saves money and is much more efficient.

    I am *not* a tree-hugger, I just want to see my kids being able to light and heat their homes when their grown-up, too.
  • Re:Inefficient (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @06:35PM (#5473088)
    Comparisons to the amount of energy that could be generated if you used the land to farm crops that could be used for biodiesel.

    You and a lot of other people on here are missing something important here: the farmer's prime goal is NOT to produce electricity. It is to produce milk. And to grow some crops on his 1000 acres. The electricity is just a convenient by-product of the cows, and of the process used to reduce the manure odor so that he doesn't bother his neighbors. I'm sure he has no interest in converting his whole farm to biodiesel production.

    Maybe its time for the craftsman/farmer to move on and see what engineers can do.

    Speaking as an engineer, we would have a bunch of cross-site meetings with various stakeholders, we would write up thousands of pages of feasibility documents, create innumerable Powerpoint presentations, hire a bunch of contractors and consultants since we don't have the required expertise, then the company would fire the whole lot of us and contract someone from India to do the job because it costs less. They would do roughly the same thing, and in the end the company would give up on the whole project and write it off as a business loss, and nothing substantive would have actually been done.
  • Re:veganism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chronus22 ( 645600 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @06:54PM (#5473169)
    Actually, a much more simple (and efficient) way of converting the energy of the sun into food is to not produce plants to feed the animals, but to eat the plants ourselves.

    Given the same area of land, many more people can be fed by using it for growing crops rather than for raising animals. I'm all for harvesting energy from "this little ball of gas in the sky," but raising animals is certainly not a particularly efficient way of doing it.
  • by Dunark ( 621237 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:17PM (#5473287)
    At the risk of sounding trite, consider what you can do to have a less destructive impact on our planet, even if it doesn't involve thousands of gallons of shit a day.

    I'm a telecommuter. My 3.5-year-old car has less than 6,000 miles on it, so I'm using less gasoline and producing a lot less pollution than most commuters.

    We supposedly have all this excess bandwidth left over from the dotcom bubble, so I think more people should use it in this manner. Also, buying OPEC oil so we can gather together in big buildings to make nice targets for terrorists doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:20PM (#5473293) Homepage Journal
    --collecting methane at sewer plants and from city dumps is being done on a large scale at over 200 US municiplaities. It works quite well.

    World wide there are literally hundreds of thousands of them (methane digesters using anareobic digestion), most of them being single family sized units where the collected gas is burned in small cookers and for lighting.

    I built a digester in the mid 70's, was EXTEREMELY easy to make. I worked on a large dairy then, despite running the digester for all summer and collecting gas, just a small display size prootype unit, I could NOT get the farmer to drive over one mile to my cabin to look at it. His stock question was "why aren't THEY doing it if it is so good?" The gas collected was great, basically burned like propane. I tried other farmers over the years,I have yet to get one to take the plunge and actually do anything different, alwatys the same, it ain't in their propaganda magazines for their particular niche for farming. You can NOT get those guys to do anything practical until they get "permission" from the agribiz cartels, and right now, the agribiz cartels want the farmers to buy expensive petroleum and chemical products from them or their country club buddies. and the farmers WONDER why they keep going broke....and they TEACH going broke in the ag colleges, which is AMAZING to me they can suck young guys into doing that.


    At least this one dairy farmer in the article gets it, it's probably only one in a thousand or less that can actually think for themselves. Work hard, 7 days a week, YEP! They do, been there done that meself. think outside the box? Hardly ever happens, so petrified of their buddies at the co-op and the feed store thinking they are "enviros" or something near as I can tell.

    Flash forward almost 30 years now, I get the same thing today, I work part time on a large poultry farm, besides methane digestion I have also asked why they don't use sprouted grains instead of the dismal dried up crap they call "feed" that barely keeps the cluckers clucking. SAME ANSWER, because "they" don't do it, this "they" guy who tells them what to do, it's not in the trade mags so "it doesn't work, it's hippie pie in the sky stuff enviro whackos".

    I LAUGH every time I hear of a farmer going broke, because if they only thought just a smidgen outside the box and stepped back from being brainwashed by archerdanielsdowmonsantoexxon, they could make money, and easily. But no, they'll defend practices that they follow that produce for them a lower profit return than their grand daddys got in world war two. Sure, they can grow huger volumes of much crappier food off an acre, deal is, it IS crappier food and they hand over their cash to the big companies, then the bank takes their property eventually. Lead around by the nose don't even begin to describe it.

    And I get the same thing from urban internet engineering "experts" who have constantly told me over the years my solar panels don't work, they "aren't practical". Funny, my electric bill is PAID OFF, I don't get a "monthly" bill with no idea what it will be if there's any political or middleman trading shenanigans. but, "solar isn't practical".


    The 21st century will belong to those who can think out of the box and stop making money for BIGCO, who work FOR THEMSELVES, and stop supporting those brane dead politicians and political parties who are in BIGCO's pockets.
  • Re:Hmmm burn coal? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by silentbozo ( 542534 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:48PM (#5473443) Journal
    Actually, we don't even need to burn the methane - we can use it as feedstock for production of methanol, or we can thermally decompose it into CO2 and H2 in order to extract the hydrogen.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @08:11PM (#5473552) Homepage Journal
    Hey, good for you man! I got one, that you can benefit from and your kid will love it. Get a garden! Even a 10 foot by 10 foot garden will produce an amazing amount of food, and there's always stuff the kid can do once they get past toddler stage into the running around energy up the wazoo stage. I started gardening when I was 4 years old, haven't missed a season yet. Our gardens are much bigger than 10 by 10, but still, I had a lot of smaller ones like that over the years. It's practical, easy to do, and you get direct benefits without filtering it through the stupid cash/store/taxes/outside job deal. Even if you are in an apartment you can garden, just use cheap large normal household decorative plant pots, just plant veggies instead of palm trees and philodendrons! Use some stakes from the garden center, grow some stuff like cherry tomatoes and peas and cucmbers, etc indoors, just stick then in front of sunny windows. Save money on chow bill, you get decent organic food, and teach yourself and child some nifty stuff. win/win/win all around. If you want a good inexpensive primer on doing small but very good gardens, I would recommend a book called "square foot gardening", will tell ya all you need to get started. If you have another spare window or some roof or wall space on the south side, get started on solar PV. Even one panel, one charge controller and a deep cell battery you can run some decent 12 volt stuff. Plus, it's a good backup emergency "power" source that will be there if your grid goes out, like a lot of places happens occasionaly. Before I got more, one panel was all my girlfriend and I had for power, we ran a reading light, small b/w tv and the radio off of it, and that was IT for our power. but just a light, tv, radio or a laptop for a bit is 'enough" for backup, and you can start using it right then. For the light, any autoparts store has 12 volt fluorescents for around 10$, and the small tvs and stuff are easy to find and cheap.

    Good luck! Kids are a great excuse to "learn and do". Both of you benefit from it!
  • Re:Nothing new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @09:19PM (#5473776)
    One of the source documents (from the State of Minn research people) estimates the capital cost to be $300,000 plus an additional 5% to 10% of that number per year in operational costs. At $0.30 per cow per day (from the electric co-op) and 750 cows, revenue is aprox $82,000 per year -- and the co-op is paying retail for the power. Assuming 10% per year depreciation ($30,000) on the capital cost and 7.5% for operation ($22,500), they're grossing a little less than $30,000 per year. AT RETAIL!

    If they had to compete with a real power plant, they'd be better off flaring the gas off just like the real sewage plants do.

    As a nation, we really are pretty efficient at generating electricity.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @12:02AM (#5474504) Homepage Journal
    --you hit on several of my points and did it well. What happened to farming with corporate monoculture is it switched from really being a diversified local farmer to monoculture corporate "agribiz". Look at their soil, they lost the entir3e idea of what soil really is, it's an ALIVE thing, it's not just someplatform for the roots to hang out at. They take out of the soil season after season after season upwards of 80 micronutrients besides the carbon. Not ever is the same amount of carbon put back, even with tilling stubble and cover crops, so that is a net loss. Then they add back 3 to 5 nutrients in powder or liquid form, and that is supposed to make up for the 80 micronutrients they take out, that's where the quality is lost. Lather rinse repeat, for years and years, maybe only do 2 crops in rotation, and never do a traditional "jubilee" one season fallow cycle. Now it's getting into the frankenstein absurd levels with what's grown, some of the gene recombinant schemes being proposed are just slap dangerous, and also not very economical in the long run when you can't even save your own seed, getting tied into some whopper international company's product, and even if you don't want to as their plan is to introduce as much air pollinated GM seed as possible so eventually everything on the planet is contaminated with their patented stuff. Already one case in canada were some guy had a lot of money seized from him in a lawsuit with monsanto canola blew into his rapeseed fields, now monsanto "owns" his crop, he "violated" their patent. and look at starlink corn what a disaster that was and now the BT stuff? are they kidding? a wide ranging larvacide, just in everything? Built right into the FOOD? Oh yas, that will REALLY make for some healthy chow, might as well call it "Dr.s new mercedes payment" brand seed.

    I tell you, having a global monopoly on food is a *bad idea*. Too bad it's happening. I read one report, some third world nations, a bare subsistence farmer, once it becomes impossible for him to save seed, is projected to be forced to spend roughly 1/3 his yearly gross on just the seed! and THAT is supposed to endear all these third world guys to something they associate with the "US"? such a deal for them-not! And it WON'T be a deal once what I call "crack" seed is universally used by commercial farmers and the price mu=ysteriously goes up, the sprays they "need" now go up, along with thei fuel costs and equipment costs and they try to trade in a "global market", working in DIRECT competition with second world nations that have huge corporate farms run by the SAME corporations that sell to them in the US now. Like, is this hard to project what is going to happen economically? Who's fooling who here now?

    Like your parent poster said, it's debt, but the HOW and WHY the debt started happening reads almost like a mystery novel. It didn't happen overnight, it just gradually changed into it. There really aren't that many independents left, not when you work for the bank and 6 or so large international corporations. And they don't care! What happens is they get the larger farmers sucked in, they follow all the normal rules, eventually they lose out, have to sell, and guess who is waiting and has the buckets of cash to buy "distressed" land and equipment at auction? Add in the scammed enviro "willing seller" conservancy trust scams, we got a serious crisis almost right here. These international guys go down to south america and whatnot and can seriously undercut the US now, because they use the same tech at much reduced material cost and greatly reduced labor. There's NO way to compete with that EXCEPT for working your own markets, thinking out of the box like this dairy farmer, and becoming diversified and working as local as possible and eliminating middlemen. To ME, and this is just an opinion, I'd say buck the trend, not larger and more specialised and more in debt, get smaller, more diversified, and more local and no debt=better profits. The whole idea is to work for yourself, not just a small piece for you and most of the pieces to guys who sit in offices downtown and on trading floors in chicago.

    There isn't any magical one size fits all "style" of farming, it just has too many factors that are unique, but every time you can eliminate cost,get benefit and profit from what was more a hassle, like these manure digesters, up quality of your farmed product above the market "norm" which is usually crappy nowadays so that is realeasy to do, charge a higher price, work in a market that isn't already saturated, and deal directly with your suppliers and customers without needing middlemen,then you're better off. You don't HAVE to do the ever grwoing larger volume monoculture debt equals more debt so borrow more to get more debt cycle thing then to "make money".

    More real "agri", less "biz". That "biz" part wasn't really invented by farmers, nope it was invented by guys with clean hands and ledger books, that "biz" part makes the guys who DON'T farm money, not YOU as a farmer.

    Older model, proving to be not a great deal for todays farmer -agriBIZ

    model I suggest they switch to -AGRIbiz

    Back to basics. God told folks how to run stuff, he said follow a few simple rules and regs as regards stewardship and economy and money, do such and such and don't do such and such, and it works. Follow mans laws,the bankers laws,the traders laws, the chem suppliers laws, etc, it only works for them, not you.

    I like this subject immensely, please excuse remaining typos, it's just a post.
  • Re:Methodology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @09:44AM (#5476041) Homepage
    Its just that it is very hard to beat the economics of fossil fuels. It will probably be that way until we start to run out which probably won't be in my lifetime.

    Well, it's only cheap if you don't have to pay for the clean up, i.e. emissions in the case of coal or oil, or the use of a non renewable resource.

    That unsustainable (some would say short sighted) use of resources can be "economic" has never really been in dispute. At least not in the short run. Witness deforrestation for example. Sicily was clear cut by the Romans, and hasn't really recovered in that respect since. That was great economy for the Romans, but doesn't do much good for the present inhabitants. In effect, the Romans took out a loan against future generations, that they have to pay back.

    If coal and oil had to carry (fully) their cost, say including the cost of replacement of much of the energy infrastructure when they've run out, I gather you wouldn't even have to mention "global warming" for the balance to shift in favour of alternative solutions.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson