Limiting the methane emissions of cows

You perhaps remember the article on backpacks for cows’ farts I published this summer. It seems there is another way to limit methane emissions produced by bovines.

Collecting their manure – and thus the methane – could decrease global warming and provide energy as this greenhouse gas is quite similar to natural gas.

This seems to be a very good solution even if it would concern firstly large dairy farms where the amount of gas is enough to pay the installation.

According to EcoGeek:

As a greenhouse gas, methane is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to retaining atmospheric heat.

And so, although it generally gets less face time in the press, it accounts for a disproportionately large chunk of global GHG emissions.

Where does the methane come from? Cows, mostly. At the tail end (pardon the pun) of their digestive system, they release methane; either directly or through the decomposition of their waste.

Capturing this methane, then, reduces GHG emissions. Additionally, cow-produced methane is a renewable energy source that, after a little cleaning, can be added into the natural gas pipeline. That is exactly what BioEnergy Solutions is doing in Kern County, CA.

They have recruited three large local dairies to harness the 650,000 cubic feet of gas emitted by their 6,500 dairy cows. That’s enough to power a couple hundred thousand California homes!

On each farm, all the cow manure is collected and mixed with water in a covered lagoon-like area. This causes the manure to decompose and release methane.

BioEnergy built the pipelines to connect the three farms, collect all the methane, treat it so that it meets natural gas standards, and finally feed it into a PG&E pipeline.

Obviously, the benefits of cow-produced biogas do not extend very far beyond those regions rife with dairy farms.

But in Kern, there are still six other major dairy farms that could be tapped, which would triple the benefits currently in place. Let’s hope they wake up and smell the… coffee.

This is a brilliant idea. I guess this kind of installation will become widespread as natural gas increase.

To conclude, the image illustrating this post is the cover of the Pink Floyd’s album Atom Heart Mother, one of my favourite albums.

7 thoughts on “Limiting the methane emissions of cows”

  1. Stop tell absurditys, the reason of the pollution is mostly the CO2 produce by cars, and not the methane produce by bovines… Should we stop to fart too ? To stop pollution ? Don’t use a car/or use bus is more intelligent in my opinion 😉

  2. If it was only cars…

    no, there is also the energy sector (see previous topic), housing, transport (as you mention) and agriculture.

    According to wikipedia, quoting the UN:

    According to the United Nations, the livestock sector (primarily cows, chickens, and pigs) emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.

    Livestock production occupies 70% of all land used for agriculture, or 30% of the land surface of the planet.[39]

    It is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases—responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. By comparison, all transportation emits 13.5% of the CO2.

    It produces 65% of human-related nitrous oxide (which has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2) and 37% of all human-induced methane (which is 23 times as warming as CO2). It also generates 64% of the ammonia, which contributes to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.


  3. Or we could just have less cows 🙂

    I realise that suggesting to a Frenchman that he could eat less cheese is very offensive, but that’s just the kind of guy I am 😉

    Per person beef consumption varies a lot by country, but is about 18kg a year across the EU [source, US FDA]. In Australia it’s 38, in Argentina 65, in the US 44, in South Africa 16, and so on.

    The same goes for dairy consumption, from 50 to 200lt of milk, 10 to 30kg of cheese, and 0.5 to 8kg of butter per person in Europe.

    Consuming less meat and dairy would mean a decline in export income, since like oil and other resources, for obvious reasons the biggest consumers are those who export it (the US is a glaring exception to this rule of consumption-export). Being able to export the stuff helps make the stuff cheap in your own country.

    But I daresay we’ll live. Food is generally cheap in the West, and accounts for relatively little export income. And the huge variation in meat and dairy consumption around the world shows that it’s not health concerns which prompt it – the human body is very adaptable, it can live on a wide variety of diets. We all need some of the stuff, but we don’t need so much.

    So the solution to cattle greenhouse gas emissions could be the same as how to end factory farming of animals, and how to improve our heart and digestive system health – just eat less meat and dairy.

    With a single policy – consume less – we deal with environmental, animal welfare, resource scarcity, and (in the developed world) public health problems.

    Burning and consuming less stuff is always the easiest and cheapest way of producing less pollution, and causing less harm to animal welfare, to our fellow citizens and ourselves.

  4. I – once again – totally agree with you Kyle. 🙂

    It’s okay for cheese, I don’t eat any (yeah, it’s odd for a French, I know ^^. but don’t touch my bottle of Bordeaux and Bourgogne… 😛 )

    Regarding red meat, I am decreasing the amount I eat. I would say by 20 percent, perhaps 25. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

    To compensate, I eat more vegetables, fruits and cereals… it’s healthier for our environment and for me…

  5. @Edouard : everyone can change a wikipedia article including the quote so…. Give me link to the UN website with with quote and I agree with you even I think we need eat so we need pig, cows… so we get their farts.

    To compensate, I eat more vegetables, fruits and cereals…

    But produce vegetables need more pesticids (?) than produce beef and milk, isn’t it ?

  6. Cérium : comme tu es Français et moi aussi, on va la faire dans notre langue commune : insinues tu que je m’amuse à modifier un article de wikipedia juste pour mon article ?

    J’ai d’une part un peu autre chose à foutre, et d’autre part, si tu ne crois pas ce que j’y écris, renseigne toi avant… merci

    Ces sujets sont un de mes sujets de travail depuis plus de cinq ans. J’ai notamment écrit de deux gros dossiers dans ce domaine, pour mes maitrise et master.

    si j’ai cité wikipedia, c’était par facilité et manque de temps. car, bizarrement, ce site n’est pas ma seule occupation.

    Sur, ce, bonne continuation et bon surf.

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