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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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  • Re:pollution? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:10PM (#5472683)
    RTFA, please.

    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.
  • by n76lima ( 455808 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:16PM (#5472710)
    Ever drive by a HUMAN sewage plant? See that orange flame at the top of a tall pipe? That is the same "bio-gas" which is surplus being wasted. See the large spheres nearby? Those are "bio-gas" storage tanks. Many facilities use it to heat the digester tanks to promote microbe growth.

    Imagine if human waste treatment were to start generating electricity. Your local water and sewage board could start PAYING you for the privilege of of disposing of your sewage.
  • Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:16PM (#5472712) Homepage Journal
    A friend was contracted to design a city landfill which would produce natural gas. It won't hit peak production of natural gas for another 50 years and already produces enough electricty for the city (pop. ~10K) plus excess which is sold. Countless landfills in the US could be doing the same thing, further, the gas that isn't used just escapes into the atmosphere.

    If this is such a good idea, and so cost effective, why isn't it being done more places?

    "In the USA we don't just waste our natural resources, we waste our waste, too!"

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bear_phillips ( 165929 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:43PM (#5472850) Homepage
    If this is such a good idea, and so cost effective, why isn't it being done more places?

    There are a number of reasons why. As urban areas grow there is less space to spread the shit around. You have to put the manure somewhere. If you don't have alot of land readily available then you have to haul it off. So lack of open land is driving up the cost of manure disposal, making electrity generation a more cost effective option.

    Between the cost of fuel going up and the cost of complying with EPA regulations drive the price of electricity up.

    Wait about 10 years probably most dairys and landfills will be doing this.

  • This leaves CO2 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Beetjebrak ( 545819 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:50PM (#5472872) Homepage
    ..couldn't that be useful for plants in greenhouses? I can imagine the distorted ecosystem of a greenhouse, where there are hardly any animals to exhale CO2, adding the CO2 left by the combustion of CH4 could have the plants create clean O2 that can be let out into the atmosphere with no further risks thus eliminating all pollution.

    But of course I don't know shit about chemistry.. so I could easily be wrong.
  • by otis wildflower ( 4889 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:51PM (#5472874) Homepage
    I still think that converting the Fresh Kills landfill to a facility that captures methane emissions, generates hydrogen from garbage compost, and burns the rest in a euro-style plasma furnace could really help SI, as well as NYC (and probably the country at large)..

    SI would get cleaner air and jobs in a good local high-tech industry (we'd be HAPPY to import garbage ;); NYC would get more tax revenue from the sale of power, hydrogen and methane to power generators and municipal vehicles/facilities and taxes from jobs and industry, as well as additional independence from out-of-city power generation and some relief from peak periods of use. NYC would also reduce its payments for handling trash, thus reducing its budget problems. Talk about a win-win-win-win-win!

    Just keep Tony Soprano's hands off it ;)
  • by forged ( 206127 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:58PM (#5472908) Homepage Journal
    Search Google News [google.com] for landfill methane electricity [google.com] will procude a bunch of interesting links, such as this [jsonline.com] or again this [gainesvillesun.com] one.

    The method has been around for decades indeed, but it isn't economical to doing it on a large scale. But things are slowly changing, it seems, in the right direction.

  • Re:Inefficient (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ledskof ( 169553 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:59PM (#5472911)
    People who are using the land to feed and power their family may be efficient, but this guy isn't just feeding and powering his family. He is producing dairy products that go into circulation. That is the inefficient and unhealthy part. He's also making a few people on top who have strangled the business from top to bottom, very rich, destroying the sharing of wealth.

    The land usage isn't even that efficient. At some point this will be an issue, but currently I guess it isnt.

    And did you even read the articles? Even the FARMERS are calling it a farm...
  • Re:veganism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by asparagus ( 29121 ) <koonce AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:59PM (#5472915) Homepage Journal
    I'll give you all the power in the world you want. It just has to come from this little ball of gas in the sky.

    Animals are one of the simplest ways to turn the energy of the sun into food. You're wanting to give up thousands of years of work on the part of your ancestors to make your 'moral' choice.

    Go for it, if you want. Just don't expect the rest of us to follow.
  • Re:veganism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by G-funk ( 22712 ) <josh@gfunk007.com> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @06:53PM (#5473167) Homepage Journal
    Not to mention the fact that it's pretty well documented (so long as you're not a creationist) that the reason man evolved into the thinking, walking*, talking creature you see before you is that we stopped eating grass and started eating meat. Meat is a LOT easier to get your RDIs from, which means your stomach does a shitload less work, which leads to more spare power to evolve a functioning brain.

    *OK, the grass eaters did walk like us, but they didn't think or talk till they started eating meat (at first simply marrow and brains left by larger carnivores).
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:52PM (#5473461) Homepage Journal
    --would it be possible to get the name of this city so I can do some research on it? I would like to present a proposal to my county commissioners on this. Most of the other sites doing biogas and cogen I found were much larger cities and a population of 10,000 is in the ball park enough for comparison purposes. Thanks in advance if this is possible.
  • by The_dev0 ( 520916 ) <hookerbot5000.gmail@com> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @08:33PM (#5473621) Homepage Journal
    No, I think you have misinterpreted the article, skewed by your (possibly misguided) personal beliefs on veganism and the dairy/meat industry. You aren't saying anything that isn't completely obvious to anyone with even a basic grasp of the problems the environment faces. The reality is, people want dairy products, and if we are going to have cows around for that, it is much better for the environment if we can do ANYTHING to lower their impact on the planet. It IS a strawman argument, because if we got rid of cows as you suggest, history shows that the price of dairy products would rise dramatically, and the gap in the market would be filled by product from the third world and by farms that would NOT be making these sort of efforts to help the planet, putting the entire industry and our world in a worse situation than it is currently in. Sometimes I wish people (read: hippies) would actually have a clue to how this world works before suggesting childish, badly planned solutions. Getting rid of cows is just not feasible currently while their products hold so much value for the human race.
  • Methodology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dmaxwell ( 43234 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @09:11PM (#5473741)
    Maybe infernal combustion engines aren't the way to do this. I wonder if using it for direct heat or running a steam turbine wouldn't be better. Of course, the turbine approach only works for a large scale operation. Then too, there are the economy of scale problem. A diesel that's been primarily engineered to burn diesel isn't going to be all that good for burning anything else. A "modified diesel" is probably a good example. A diesel that's been engineered (materially and otherwise) to burn biogas would probably work better. The problem here is that there has to be enough incentive to make a lot of them. Building one or two such engines wouldn't pay off what it cost to design them.

    Anyhow, I don't think burning biogas is a bad idea. It will have to be properly engineered and applied to worth a squat though.
  • Re:Methodology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nomadicGeek ( 453231 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @09:39PM (#5473884)
    I wish that I had more information but the engines where modified specifically for this purpose and are used in a lot of installations.

    The main problem is that you usually don't get enough off gasing from even a large landfill to build a very large power plant. The economy of scale is very difficult to achieve.

    We have gotten really good at burning fossil fuels and providing large quantities of energy very cheaply. It is difficult to compete. I would love to see this type of thing take off and I would definitely like to see things like solar energy develop more fully. 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.

  • by Simon Field ( 563434 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @10:16PM (#5474040) Homepage

    The part I like best is that the CO2 produced is not only less of a greenhouse gas than the mathane, but since it comes from the grass and grain that the cows ate, it is completely renewable, and we can take it back out of the air by growing more grass and grain.

    It would be interesting to see how much of my natural gas bill I could save by digesting lawn clippings, old newspapers, and other garbage I would normally have dumped in a landfill. By skipping the cow phase, I lose the milk, but I should get more methane per pound of grass.

    The data here [dabney.com] seem to indicate that pig and chicken farmers would get twice the methane that the dairy farmer gets. And handling the waste from pig farms is a big problem that this may help solve.

    More info here [energy.gov].

  • Cows per home (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @11:15PM (#5474289)
    Lets see. I run my home on 3000 kWHr/year. For lights, electric stove, fridge, this computer, dehumidifier and central air in summer, for the furnace blower of a gas-fired furnace in winter, for everything. That is 347 watts 24/7. Divide 347 into the 150 kilowatts 24/7 gives over 400 homes. That is 2 cows per home.
  • by OS2_will_prevail! ( 630613 ) <ianh@ r i c a.net> on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:09AM (#5474741)
    Where to start....

    I suppose I should just leave the bulk of your comments alone and just accept them for what they are; your opinions. You make some valid points to be sure, but perhaps extrapolate them too far. But, I said I was going to leave the comments alone so I will proceed to my question.

    I am curious as to the design of the digester you came up with. Single stage, multi-stage, plug flow, batch, continuous flow, what? Also, I am curious as to what kind of efficiencies you experienced in terms of cubic feet of gas produced per lb of volitile solids, composition of the gas, etc.

    I own and operate a dairy and poultry farm, and am designing a digester system that will hopefully process both manures, thus explaining my interest.

    It should probably be stated that one reason that technology such as this is slow to take off is because it is, like so much in agriculture, *expensive*. (or can be) Sure, you or I can go out and cobble together a small scale digester to prove the concept works, scaling it up to process several tons of material per day can be a different story. So, before we criticize the farmer for not thinking outside of the box, or being stubborn, or whatever, think about living his life. (granted, you say you have worked on farms, so perhaps I am puting words in your mouth, if so forgive me) There is only so much money that the owner/farmer can have to invest. Does he put it in things "proven" to provide a return on that investment (doing things much like he always has), or try new, unproven, technologies? (thinking outside the box) With todays slim margins the choice is difficult.

    Bah! It is midnight and my fingers are refusing to work properly, and my brain is shutting down. Perhaps in the morning I will remember what I wanted to say.....
  • Re:Inefficient (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ggwood ( 70369 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @03:43PM (#5479005) Homepage Journal
    By my simple calculations, to replace the San Onofre Nuclear power plant [sce.com]near where I live, which generates over 1 gigawatt of power, would require 13.7 million cows.

    There are *tons* of cows in the US. According to this report [usda.gov], there were 96 million cows in the US in 1992, of which about 22.6% are dairy cows.

    So this could be a pretty big deal (particularly if all cows could be used and not just dairy cows) but it would involve a big fraction of the industry getting involved.

    When I toured San Onofre, they mentioned that (1) in California, the power companies must buy power from independent producers at the highest rate they are paying for any power, and (2) pig farmers were selling power to them at that time, and making some pretty good money off of it. That was around 1998-99.

    You would think with power costs what they are now, every little farm would be looking into this. I hope they are.

    I suspect they are not - or if they are they will find the risks too great.

    It would be truely bizzare if we had to genetically breed cows to make them more "gas-y". I can just see it now: dairy cows, meat cows, gas cows...

    The one image which keeps popping into my mind when such topics crop up is of starving people in other nations utterly bewindered that we could use all this fertile land...to generate electricity.

    Of course the US alone already wastes enough food to save all the starving peoples of the world if we chose to do so - it is just a question of distribution.

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein