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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 asramchusak ( 652686 ) <asram_chusak@hotmail.com> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:01PM (#5472627) Homepage
    Is a crock of shit. :)
  • by FrostedWheat ( 172733 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:03PM (#5472633)
    Ahhh the sweet smell of efficency. *takes a deep breath*

  • by mikosullivan ( 320993 ) <miko@idoCOMMAcs.com minus punct> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:03PM (#5472636)
    ... the power of bullshit.
  • by dotgod ( 567913 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:05PM (#5472647)
    That's a nice generator...
  • 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.
  • ...literally
  • Human waste (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nexum ( 516661 )
    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:Human waste (Score:5, Informative)

      by ax_johnson ( 261223 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:33PM (#5472801)
      Well, IAARCE (I am a Registered Civil Engineer), and yes, this does work with human waste. In fact, it's probably being used at your local wastewater treatment plant now to power their pumps and such. It's as very common way to reduce -or eliminate - electricity costs at treatment plants.

      It also works at landfills. Methane is extracted from the landfill, and used to turn generators. The electricity is fed into the power grid, and the power company pays the landfill operator (usually the county) for the juice. Here in Northern California, the power company (Pacific Graft & Extortion - AKA PG&E) is legally required to purchase the power.

    • As an Environmental Engineer many WWTPs use this technology. The largest problem with it however is hard water (calcium) or silica in the effluent often deposit on the turbine blades of the generator and greatly reduce life. (A pilot scale test I know of ran for about a week then died). And they are not cheap, we are talking about $12M for a small city, it was a pilot, so full scale would probably be about the same cost.

      It never pays for the entire process, but it can help to offset costs.
  • by lildogie ( 54998 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:08PM (#5472666)
    Flying cows replace power transmission lines.
  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:14PM (#5472705)
    22000 gal manure per day/ 760 cows = 30 gal/cow per day

    Doesn't that seem a little hi?
  • 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!"

    • It isn't new; if you look at a landfill, try to find some 12" or so pipes above the ground that collect the gas. It is methane, not "natural gas."

      One thing to note, though-- the "venting" of the gas is not good. It is a green-house gas. That's why they usually try and burn it in flares wherever there is a concentration.

      Interesting thing about using biogas at feed lots is that it actually reduces the cow's environmental impact. If only they could capture the flatulent as well... imagine what the animal rights activists would say!

    • 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.

    • by zogger ( 617870 )
      --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.
    • 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.
  • China and India have been at the forefront of biogas power production for decades.

    In 1979, China had an estimated 7.2 million biogas plants, fueled primarily by pig manure.

    In the same year, India had 80,000 of its own biogas plants fueled by the defecation of the sacred cow. (Holy Shit!)

    They've even been doing this in the US for quite some time. Here is another article [riverdeep.net] that provides an excellent explanation of the process, costs, and capabilities of such a system.
  • 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.

    • Indeed... here are some little things:

      • I turn off my workstation and all lights and other gadgets in my office every night.
      • I use 4x75 A/C in the car (4 windows down at 75mph). Similar for the household.
      • I turn the shower knobs nearly off when I'm not actually rinsing. This allows me to take 20 minute showers (letting that mmmm good conditioner soak in) while using about half as much water as my son's bath.
      • I bought several of those fluorescent standard-sized lightbulbs... more expensive, but they last way longer and output just as much light (or more if you buy bigger!).

      anyway, and I'm just a poor, young single Dad trying to make it. I'm sure others can add other creative, inexpensive ways to contribute.


      • Re:a positive trend (Score:4, Informative)

        by dizgusted ( 133850 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:07PM (#5473237)
        use 4x75 A/C in the car (4 windows down at 75mph). Similar for the household.

        Windows down in the car is great around town for saving fuel. On the highway the increased aerodynamic drag reduces fuel consumption to a degree comparable to running the a/c compressor. If you're already hauling around the a/c, you might as well be comfortable on the highway.
      • by British ( 51765 ) <british1500@gmail.com> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:09PM (#5473245) Homepage Journal
        (4 windows down at 75mph). Similar for the household.

        Soo, you have a mobile home that goes 75 mph?
      • Re:a positive trend (Score:3, Informative)

        by urbazewski ( 554143 )
        A tremendous amount of energy goes into transporting food to your table --- try consuming locally grown produce and shopping at the farmer's market, if your town has has one.

        I agree with the poster who talked aout telecommuting --- shortening your commute to work by living closer to your workplace, telecommuting, or taking public transportation also reduces energy consumption day by day.

        More fun, less stuff!

      • 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!
    • 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.
  • This really isn't anything new. The pioneers in the late 1800's burned cow-patties when they were crossing the praries. In fact, cow-patties will emit methane for a fairly long amount of time. One of the California universities (sorry, can't remember which) uses methane off-gased from a landfill.

    If the combustion processes is controlled correctly, there is little pollution generated. The biggest problem with either of these dirty fuels is "What impurities are in both of these that are not present in cleaner fuels that cannot be removed?"
  • I wonder how many homes could be powered if everyone ate vegan, and we used all the energy it takes to raise all those cows for electricity.
    • Re:veganism (Score:3, Interesting)

      by asparagus ( 29121 )
      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 )
        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).
      • Re:veganism (Score:3, Insightful)

        by chronus22 ( 645600 )
        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.
  • It was too exepensive to run power lines to villages in China, so they used methane power for a long time.
  • If you're extremely patriotic, collect all the cow shit you can and store it in your back yard. You too can help reduce America's dependency on foreign oil.
  • Haven't people been doing this for decades? Back in the 80's, I'd seen more than one PBS show on it.
  • Now when the shit hits the fan, thats a good thing?

    I'm sorry, but a story like this is just too good to pass up.....

  • This leaves CO2 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Beetjebrak ( 545819 )
    ..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.
  • Now... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quixote ( 154172 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @05:50PM (#5472873) Homepage Journal
    If only someone could come up with a way to generate electricity from the crap that people post here....

  • 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 Filiks ( 578065 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @06:11PM (#5472966)
    The cow-body generates more bioelectricity than a 120-volt battery. And over 25,000 BTUs of body heat. Combined with a form of combustion...the humans had found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields, Neo, endless fields...where cow-beings are no longer born. We are grown. For the longest time I wouldn't believe it. And then I saw the fields with my own eyes...watched them liquify the dead...so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure, horrifying precision...I came to realize the the obviousness of the truth. What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world...built to keep us under control...in order to change a cow-being...into this. (a battery)
  • Bah, we Indians have been using cow manure for a variety of things for hundreds if not thousands of years. I'm not surprised that there is even more useful things we could do it. It's been a replacement for Lysol and fuel. This method is also used in India called Gorba gas. :P

    They laughed at us when we told them that cows were holy. Guess, whose laughing now?!

    Cow Zindabad, Cow Zindabad! :-) [trans. long life to cows]

  • by nomadicGeek ( 453231 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @06:29PM (#5473055)
    It is actually very common to burn these waste products to create electricity. I've been involved in several of these projects myself.

    One project involved modified diesel engines that burned landfill gas to make electricity. The other involved piping landfill gas to an existing power plant to burn in the boiler.

    In both cases these projects would not have been economically viable except for govt incentives, tax credits, and environmental regulations.

    While it may sound appealling to use this free energy source, it is actually pretty expensive to make it all work. The electricity produced ends up costing more in the long run than regular old power from coal or natural gas.

    The landfill gas is usually pretty nasty and it is difficult to keep things running. Everything corrodes quickly. These facilities also produce very little power, on the order of 10's of MW whereas a large coal unit is usually 500MW or more. Diverting your maintenance people to the little installation to keep it running is very inefficient. It is much better to keep them working on the large units.

    • Methodology (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dmaxwell ( 43234 )
      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 )
        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.

        • 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.

  • by whazzy ( 620752 ) <whazzy@su[ ]ha.com ['lek' in gap]> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:53PM (#5473465)
    ...at all...More than 2 million biogas plants have been built in India so far.This was more in line with Mahatma Gandhi's vision of self sufficient communities,sustaining their needs from the local environment.

    You can learn more about it here: BioGas in India [ganesha.co.uk]

  • by GrimReality ( 634168 ) on Sunday March 09, 2003 @07:56PM (#5473484) Homepage Journal

    I am not sure if using farm byproducts to produce electricity is new, since I have heard of similar ones before (in documentaries).

    • There have been projects in the third world countries such as India, where many villages do not have electricity and are too far to get LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) supplied to them. They collect cow-dung or other manure in large tanks and then use the methane collected to fuel a generator or (more often for individul farms, use the methan directly for lighting lamps or stoves)
    • In the Netherlands (Holland) --or maybe it is another Scandinavian country, I saw this documentary more than 3 year ago-- they did something very similar except that it was with excess vegetable matter. And this powered a small town not just a farm (well, maybe this farm might be a really large one, in that case I disregard the comment).

    Please pardon my ignorance, if I have said something stupid above.

    Thank you.

    2003-03-09 23:55:59 UTC (2003-03-09 18:55:59 EST)

  • by Swaffs ( 470184 ) <swaff AT fudo DOT org> on Sunday March 09, 2003 @11:24PM (#5474336) Homepage
    I call bullshit!

    (Sorry, sorry... +1, Lame?)

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN