Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Electricty generated from manure!

Energy, Going Green, Interesting idea

Back in the 1970s, we were in an energy crisis. Because oil supply was limited and prices high, many alternative fuels and energy generating operations were talked about and tried. Capturing methane gas from rotting garbage was a popular idea at the time--I think it was even featured in Mother Earth News. (My husband and I were subscribers.) I don't remember if many people actually tried it though. Today, oil prices are up again and people are looking for alternatives.

I recently saw an interesting electricity generating operation on Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs show. Host Mike Rowe paid a visit to Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana where Mike helped with all sorts of dirty, grimy, icky, jobs in that "Dairy Cow Midwife*" episode. Mike literally rolled up his sleeves and even got in up past his elbow to help a cow deliver her calf. (Haven't seen that since watching All Creatures Great and Small!)

The segment ended with Mike shoveling manure for the farmer's methane gas generating operation. The Post Tribune reported, "Rowe worked with the farm's anaerobic digester, which produces methane from cow manure, and produces electricity for several of Fair Oaks' farms."

Wow! What a great idea! Four big tanks held the cow manure and produced enough methane gas to power the generators for electricity production. I have no idea what the pay back or life cycle is of the equipment, but the concept is intriguing.

The anaerobic (with oxygen) digesters break down the manure. In the process, nutrients are extracted from the manure, leaving a effluent that is a very nutritious soil fertilizer. Methane gas is produced as a by-product. The methane is then captured and used to generate electricity!

I found this Midwest Rural Energy Council website that explains this type of operation:

Anaerobic digesters convert the energy stored in organic materials present in manure into biogas.  Biogas can be fed directly into a gas-fired combustion turbine.  The type of turbine most often used for small-scale electricity production is the microturbine.  Combustion of biogas converts the energy stored in the bonds of the molecules of the methane contained in the biogas into mechanical energy as it spins a turbine.  The mechanical energy produced by biogas combustion in an engine or microturbine spins a turbine that produces a stream of electrons, or, electricity.  In addition, waste heat from these engines can provide heating or hot water for use on farm.

As energy prices continue to climb, alternative ideas that were discarded before might be tried again. New technologies will be tried too. No need for mandates and regulatory laws. People will naturally gravitate towards these innovations--especially if they are cheaper to operate than gas/oil fueled standard methods.

Kilowatts from cow pies? Good thinking!


*Dirty Jobs repeats its episodes throughout the year--hope you can catch this one. 



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