Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Poop to Power: The Big Picture

Regular readers know I'm a big fan of the "poop to power" concept, and have featured numerous innovations from around the world where farmers and ranchers turn their "brown gold" into energy for themselves or for the electric grid. Today's New York Times takes a look at the big picture of poop to power, and the future looks very bright for these technologies:

In a sense, it is the ultimate renewable source of fuel. Weather anomalies can kill off corn crops, calm the winds, obscure the sun --— but through rain or shine, gusts or stillness, cows and hogs and turkeys spew forth a steady stream of manure, one of nature's richest sources of methane, a principal component of natural gas.

And now, farmers and entrepreneurs are recognizing that this immutable fact can yield a steady stream of revenue and profit, too. Slowly, but steadily, they are replacing the malodorous lagoons used to treat the waste with machines that can wrest energy from excrement.

According to AgStar, a federal program that promotes the conversion of manure to energy, there are more than 100 anaerobic digesters --— devices that create an oxygen-free atmosphere in which bacteria digest manure and release gas -- operating in the United States today, with another 80 on the drawing boards.

"These are the only kinds of waste management systems that can actually put money in farmers' pockets," said Kurt Roos, program manager of AgStar.

Apparently, farmers and entrepreneurs see real opportunity in poop power, as a number of companies that had only dabbled in the technology a few years ago are now making it a central part of their businesses. This is good news not only because these people are taking literal wastes and turning them into a number of different useful products (not just energy, but also fertilizer and even bedding material), but also because methane is a particularly nasty greenhouse gas. Obviously, this alone isn't going to save us from global warming, but it does create more converts to the idea that going green can be profitable, and that just might save us... It seems to me this could also be a very powerful appropriate technology for the developing world -- I'm reminded of the story from Jeff Goodell's Big Coal about the Chinese farmer who used a anaroebic digester to harvest methane for cooking and other power needs.

Via Hugg

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