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(29,821 posts)
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 12:11 PM Jan 2022

This California Dairy Farm's Secret Ingredient for Clean Electricity: Cow Poop


Few places encompass this potential future better than Bar 20 Dairy, a dairy farm in Kerman, California, that uses methane from cow manure to produce clean electricity with almost zero carbon emissions. It’s the first dairy farm in the U.S. to power its own clean energy “microgrid” using a biogas, and it could be a tantalizing sign of what the future of green energy might look like for companies with access to plenty of methane.

The technology isn’t all that hard to grasp. Manure and waste water from the farm’s nearly 7,000 cows are transported and sifted into a 25-million-gallon rectangular pit in the ground called a digester. The liquid sits for about 30 days while methane gas rises to the top of the closed digester. The gas then gets piped into a skid shifter, which separates the methane from hydrogen sulfide and other impurities. Finally, the methane is piped into fuel cells that harness it to produce electricity with little to no greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s where Silicon Valley meets the Central Valley,” said N. Ross Buckenham, the CEO of California Bioenergy, a company that operates and builds manure digesters—including the one used by Bar 20 Dairy.

Producing electricity from cow poop (or other forms of agriculture waste like hog manure) is not an entirely new concept. For at least 15 years now, dairy farms from Vermont to Wisconsin have engaged in this kind of small-scale bioenergy production, making enough electricity to power a few hundred homes, and certainly more than enough to keep a large farm running.

I live in Arkansas, home of America's chicken dinner and this would be a game changer!
11 replies = new reply since forum marked as read
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This California Dairy Farm's Secret Ingredient for Clean Electricity: Cow Poop (Original Post) WhiteTara Jan 2022 OP
I wonder what they do with the hydrogen sulfide. nt Phoenix61 Jan 2022 #1
Methane is still a fossil fuel DarwinsRetriever Jan 2022 #2
Bacteria convert poop to methane, Gruenemann Jan 2022 #4
Exactly. Cows are not going to stop pooping. brush Jan 2022 #11
here's the secret WhiteTara Jan 2022 #5
So what happens to the carbon in the methane? GregariousGroundhog Jan 2022 #7
Beat me to it. sl8 Jan 2022 #9
Assuming we don't stop dairy farming, 18 grams of CO2 is better than 14 grams of CH4 GregariousGroundhog Jan 2022 #6
Barter Town bmbmd Jan 2022 #3
I love this! BeckyDem Jan 2022 #8
Industrial scale dairy farming is pretty gross... hunter Jan 2022 #10


(28 posts)
2. Methane is still a fossil fuel
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 12:44 PM
Jan 2022

CO2 is a byproduct of burning methane. Not to mention during the whole process methane will escape and methane is a greater greenhouse gas than CO2. So, it is not a "Secret Ingredient for Clean Electricity".


(1,001 posts)
4. Bacteria convert poop to methane,
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 12:56 PM
Jan 2022

whether it's in a digester or not. Isn't it better to burn it than let it go straight into the atmosphere?


(29,821 posts)
5. here's the secret
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 01:05 PM
Jan 2022

The problem is that most of these places use a combustion engine to run the processes that actually make electricity. The green benefits that come from finding a new use for waste are basically wiped out by the greenhouse gasses these engines pump into the air.

This is where fuel cells lend a helping hand, since they don’t spew out carbon dioxide as a byproduct when running the methane-to-electricity reactions. Bar 20 Dairy uses solid oxide fuel cells made by San Jose-based company Bloom Energy. They consist of an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte that’s sandwiched between two interconnected plates. As methane flows through the anode side and air passes through the cathode side, it causes a chemical reaction in the electrons which produces electricity, with practically zero carbon dioxide byproduct.

The result is a self-sustaining, clean energy microgrid: something Bar 20 Dairy’s Steve Sheheady and his family have been trying to establish for years.


(7,541 posts)
7. So what happens to the carbon in the methane?
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 01:12 PM
Jan 2022

Fuel cells usually take 1 CH4 + 2 O2 and pass it over a catalyst to turn it into 1 CO2 and 2 H20. The article doesn't mention what happens to the carbon, and so I'm not inclined to believe the author that there is zero carbon dioxide output.


(15,232 posts)
9. Beat me to it.
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 01:20 PM
Jan 2022

The article is short on technical information.

From the company that makes the fuel cells:


The only somewhat similar claim they make is that they release less CO2 than the (current U.S.) grid.

I think the Daily Beast writer gives the wrong impression.


(7,541 posts)
6. Assuming we don't stop dairy farming, 18 grams of CO2 is better than 14 grams of CH4
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 01:06 PM
Jan 2022

The article says there are no CO2 emissions. They don't explain what happens to the carbon though, so my inclination is to not believe that claim. Reducing the amount of dairy and beef consumed is a good thing. That said, for whatever we do produce, taking 14 grams of methane and turning it into 18 grams of carbon dioxide has less environmental impact than doing nothing with the methane.


(38,575 posts)
10. Industrial scale dairy farming is pretty gross...
Fri Jan 21, 2022, 01:35 PM
Jan 2022

... and it's probably a very inappropriate use of California's increasingly scarce water resources.

I don't think cheap beef and dairy products are a human right.

I'm not a radical vegan, I'll serve meat and dairy products when I'm cooking for carnivorous family, and yes I have been a hunter, and I've caught a lot of fish, but here in the 21st century with the world population approaching 8 billion people we've all got to consider the environmental impacts of what we eat.


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