There’s something, well, powerful, about any creature that produces 120 pounds of waste every day. That’s the amount of manure that dairy farmers must clean up every day, from every single cow on the farm. That’s right: 120 pounds of manure. Every day. Every cow.
It’s a lot of waste going to waste, so to speak. Farmers have long joked about turning all that waste, which happens to be rich in methane gas, into real energy. And now that vision is starting to become a reality in California, thanks to a serious push to use more renewable power, and improved technology for breaking down the manure in a way that captures the methane.
Call it Cow Power. Bioenergy Solutions is a company based in Bakersfield, California, that has developed a system to make this conversion from waste to energy more cost effective for farmers. In fact, the company was founded by a group of dairy farmers who became inspired after spending so many days knee deep in you know what.
The company says the technology is still being perfected, but that biomethane plants in general have become more economically feasible now that utilities are working to derive more power from renewable sources. Cow manure may not conjure up the same romantic image as a windmill churning on the horizon or a sleek solar panel basking on the roof of a house. But you can’t get more renewable than a cow that generates that volume of waste, day in and day out.
Bioenergy Solutions says it is currently producing enough power for 1,000 homes, from 2,400 cows. The company has contracts with 40 dairy farms and many more have expressed interest.
These optimistic estimates are derived from limited, small scale production, and offer no guarantee that they could be replicated on a grand scale. Still, the numbers are so encouraging, that it can get you thinking about what could be accomplished with twice, or three times the number of cows.
Before you travel too far down that line of reasoning, remember the 120 pounds of manure that every single cow produces every single day, and ask yourself if we really need more of that.
Perhaps Cow Power is best positioned as a niche industry.