Gallery: POO POWER: Giant Vat of Crap to Produce Natural Gas for CA

 

Poop-power is not a new phenomenon, as methane-powered generators have existed for a while, and even larger scale developments have used poo-power as a way to meet energy needs. But powering a state with poo? This is exactly what Californian utility PG&E has just started to do, by creating natural gas from a vat of liquid-cow poo, in what is probably the smelliest (but smartest) way ever to produce any form of renewable energy.

The thought of decomposing cow poop might elicit some gags, but the fact is, the methane produced from it is no laughing matter. As manure decomposes, it produces methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, dozens of times more damaging than CO2. This is why controlling methane emissions from animals is key in the fight against global warming, and capturing methane for natural gas might be a perfect 2-for-1 solution to that problem. (Of course, encouraging less meat-eating might be a more obvious and easy solution to this problem, but of course, since it seems impossible to wean Americans off hamburgers, this scheme might just be the next greatest thing)

The CA Poo Power project is located in the Vintage Dairy Farm in Riverdale, CA and is the brainchild of David Albers, head of BioEnergy Solutions, who we previously featured in his attempts to turn poop into green. The project aims to turn the effluent of 5000 cows, effectively a 33 feet deep, 5 football field-sized vat, into natural gas. The lagoon is naturally covered to prevent the manure from escaping, and lined in plastic to stop the manure from seeping to the ground water.

At the moment, this rather huge installation is able to power approximately 1,200 house per day. Not a large number, but then, you if you consider that there are 2,000,000 cows in California alone, you can certainly start smelling the possibilities.

+ California cows start passing gas to the grid

RELATED POSTS + Poo Power + Dog Poo To Power San Francisco + Pig Powered eco-lodge

Via Reuters

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36 Comments

  1. Katy Regan March 9, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    i love this idea and wish it was simple for every one to do, we need to take power from the companies making money burning fossil fuels and be more self sufficent using methods using methane from poop,its an all round solution for cheaper fuel and helping to restore the planet. never mind the bad smell its better we live in harmony to nature than destroy it.katyr

  2. Vatican City Is The 'Gr... December 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    [...] for staff. It is even noted that the Pope’s summer residence is being outfitted to harness the methane generated by the horse [...]

  3. VW Bug Converted to Run... August 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

    [...] compressed methane gas. It actually needs a bigtof regular gasoline to start up, then switches to bio-gas when it is warmed up, and can switch back to gasoline if it runs out. Previous attempts to run cars [...]

  4. michel October 20, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    There is nothing like the truly renewable source of cow manure to power local facilities. I think that methane digester sales will boom but maybe not in California because of the heavy restrictions on permitting that exist.

  5. Inhabitat » Chick... September 8, 2008 at 9:04 am

    [...] two-for-one benefit: it generates energy while disposing of waste. We’ve covered poo power schemes in the past, but never on such a massive [...]

  6. Inhabitat » Burp ... July 24, 2008 at 9:09 am

    [...] Ah, green design at its finest. Here at Inhabitat we pride ourselves in bringing you the freshest eco-friendly innovations, so how could we pass on the merits of this bright pink burp-trapping bovine backpack? It’s more than just a catchy concept – believe it or not there’s real SCIENCE at work here! The methane collecting tanks were utilized by Argentina’s National Institute for Agricultural Technology as part of a a study to determine the atmospheric impact of methane released by cows. The findings were startling, as researcher Guillermo Berro estimated that “30% of Argentina’s total greenhouse gases could be generated by cattle.” Time to seriously consider that poo power plant! [...]

  7. garret April 28, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    I love this! This is the coolest form of alternative energy because these amazing animals already give us so much now they are giving as power!!!!!!!!!!

  8. zilfondel March 23, 2008 at 3:48 am

    The manure from the cows in the article are from a dairy farm, not for meat consumption. So everyone in the US would have to give up milk, too.

    While it is possible to allow the cows to roam free, you would have to drive a tractor around to scoop up the thousands of tons of manure each week (per farm), which might be viable if you powered the tractors off of the methane from the manure itself.

    There is a lot of cow manure that is generated in the US, and it has a severe impact on global warming: dairy farms in California produce more greenhouse gas emissions than every car in the LA metropolitan area. This is largely because molecule per molecule, Methane is 21 TIMES more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. Thus, eliminating 1 pound of methane gas from the atmosphere eliminates the equivalent of 21 pounds of CO2. If all you do is burn that Methane and release the CO2 into the atmosphere, it will eliminated 95% of the greenhouse gas effect!

    Additionally, all this Methane is generated from food and grass, which grabbed its carbon from the atmosphere anyway. So it is carbon neutral – except for the small amount of oil that is used as pesticides/herbicides/fertilizer in growing the corn. However, that is already a sunk cost, as Americans consume a lot of milk.

    \”Livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N. — more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet.\”

    See source:
    http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock\’s_Long_Shadow
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0220/p03s01-ussc.html
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cow-emissions-more-damaging-to-planet-than-cosub2sub-from-cars-427843.html

    \”Methane traps over 21 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide\”
    http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/content/Emissions.html

  9. ' + title + ' - ' + bas... March 15, 2008 at 3:05 am

    [...] Inhabitat recently reported California PG&E’s newly adopted system to create natural gas from a vat of liquid-cow poo. Yes, you heard me right…. Ok, so it doesn’t smell of lavender fields, but, more importantly, it is helping to heal the planet. Manure when left to decompose, produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, dozens of times more damaging than CO2. [...]

  10. dxb:729 » Blog Ar... March 15, 2008 at 2:32 am

    [...] Inhabitat [...]

  11. dxb:729 » Blog Ar... March 15, 2008 at 2:27 am

    [...] Inhabitat  [...]

  12. Arthur March 14, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    Yes, having a lot of cows in one area can cause a bad smell. That is another advantage to a methane digester system. If the waste is being placed in a digester regularly, it isn’t building up to the levels you speak of.

    5 cows wouldn’t produce enough waste to cause the smells you speak of if you were keeping the digestor fed.
    There is smell involved with any animal waste product. The reason it gest so bad is most of these operations either pile up the waste for drying or composting. That is a LOT of waste to offgas. Placed in a digestor you solve a lot of the problem.

  13. BD March 14, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Wait! I don’t want to smell the 5 cows needed to generate methane for my house. Multiply by thousands of houses. Did anyone ever drive by a dairy? Yuk!

  14. jasonspage.net » ... March 14, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    [...] Energy company to begin producing natural gas from animal waste. (via) [...]

  15. jim March 14, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    In 1977, I was part of an international team that designed a prototype commercial greenhouse that as part of its system uses manure to generate electricity. With just an 8% increase in initial cost, these greenhouses which are located in the northernmost islands in the British Empire operate year ’round without any connections to a utility system. Their payback was almost instantaneous and today, it is the standard in the Shetland Islands.

    For those who are concerned, the animals are allowed to move freely in the fields.

    Since then, we have designed/patented an inexpensive method to generate multi-times the energy per pound of poop, including human, than the out-of-date method described above and little, if any of the gases are released into the atmosphere. Once we receive R&D funding, we will proceed to bring it to market.

  16. fire-pixel.com March 14, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Beyond this great article, am I the only one that thinks we should bring back horses as a viable transportation option since we’re depleting all of our fossil fuels?

    Anyway, global warming or not, I’m all for more efficient use of our resources and anything with a cleaner process. Personally I think it’s all cyclical but, as I said, we’re always better off cleaning up our crap and not wasting mother nature.

    Toilet paper is a great example. Did you know there was a cotton based on on the market? PurelyCotton.com – there’s an ecom site listed in this article. It’s made from cotton linters – which is a by-product from the harvest.

    Top 10 Awesome Websites That Sell Cool Products You Probably Have Never Visited But Need To.

    http://www.comember.net/blogs/firepixel/

    Check it out.

  17. Arthur March 14, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    CO2 is released when burning methane produced in digestors. At least it will not be CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. Burning the methane will not add to the overall CO2 levels in the atmosphere since the CO2 released came from the materials that make up the manure. What do they call that? carbon neutral i think was the term. And as stated earlier, processing the manure this way will keep a lot of methane out of the atmosphere which is a LOT worse.

    Somebody wasn’t impressed with the project due to the bad proctices of the cattle industry. True, the cattle industry does need to change in a lot of ways. The way I’m looking at is, the manure is there whether it’s used for this purpose or not. At least it can help to offset the use of coal and other fossil fuels a bit. Cattle are best raised on grasses and hay. Feeding cattle grain actually has a very negative effect on their health and happiness. Sure it packs the weight on quickly as well as increasing the marbling of the meat. It’s just not a good way to raise cattle.

    Methane digestors can run with just about any material that biodegrades. They can use, wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, any sort of animal and human waste.

    Methane digestors are actually simple to build and there is much info available on the net to do so.
    The resulting gas can be used to generate electricity, heat water or homes, cooking, run vehicles, etc. Natual Gas is mostly methane.

    The leftover material that comes out the other end of a digestor is a 99.99% clean and natural fertilizer.
    The nitrogen content is higher than if straight manure were used. And you don’t have the potential for spreading bacteria to your gardens that you would with using manure for fertilizer.

    As long as the digestor is designed so that manure is held within the device for 90 days or longer, human waste comes out safe as well. If you are still concerned about that, you could compost the material just to be sure.

    To a lot of people, the fertilizer coming from a digestor is more valuable than the methane produced.

    I’m happy with any attempts I see to take what was once a waste product and make it useful.
    Many small steps like these will be required to make ourselves more self sufficient.

  18. Turning Cow Poo into El... March 14, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    [...] 14, 2008 The Inhabitat blog yesterday published some seriously cute cow pictures and an interesting article about how PG&E is turning the huge excesses of cow manure into electricity in California. [...]

  19. Sid March 14, 2008 at 11:21 am

    For those concerned about the CO2 gas created by burning methane, let’s put this into perspective. “Burning methane does release CO2, but mole for mole CO2 is much less of a greenhouse gas then CH4″ (Methane). I found that quote here: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001625.html So, CA is actually helping our global warming problem with this project :-) Way to go California!!

  20. FuzzLinks » POO P... March 14, 2008 at 11:13 am

    [...] Poop-power is not a new phenomenon, as methane-powered generators have existed for a while, and even larger scale developments have used poo-power as a way to meet energy needs. But powering a state with poo? This is exactly what Californian utility PG&E has just started to do…http://www.inhabitat.com/2008/03/13/poop-power-giant-vat-of-crap-to-produce-natural-gas-for-ca/ [...]

  21. Seán Fogarty March 14, 2008 at 9:42 am

    In response to the comment left by James, I too am left thinking that the whole concept outlined above is side stepping the important issue of how wasteful beef production is to begin with. Since the only way to harness methane efficiently is through intensive agricultural practice/malpractice then why not abandon this idea and focus instead on capturing the effluent from another (entirely willing) captive species…..us.

  22. Shiraz March 14, 2008 at 9:40 am

    although canadian, i visted my folx village in india when i was a kid and found that not only have they been using cow dung for fuel for ages (moreso for cooking). but the cows roam free… thats where all of the poor folx come in handy and get paid to collect the stuff. ive never been to cali, but i am certain theres a ‘crapload’ of homeless… why not let the cattle roam, while the legal system forces homeless crackheads in trouble to go and do the deed as a form of restitution.
    methane itself is harmful to the atmos., but most comes from wetlands, oceanic organisms and the like… cow farts are hardly an issue – still the free energy will certainly outweigh coal/nuclear energy with respect to sustainability.
    facts on cow poo power in UK and India:
    http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/mooove-over-wind-and-solar-energy-cows-poop-is-here-to-stay/
    facts on methane and the atmosphere: http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20050625005443data_trunc_sys.shtml

  23. gwen March 14, 2008 at 8:23 am

    wow if they harnessed the power of all of the cows in CA, at the same ratio of cows per home you could power 480,000 homes just from cows alone. Wow—now we just have to figure out what to do with the CO2

  24. James March 14, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Most Cows in the U.S (about 80%) are raised in factory farms (imprisoned); and the effulent from the tortured animals is 20 times the amount of Humans. Most of the animal waste runs off and pollutes the waterways. The amount of food, water and energy it takes to raise animals for food is astonishing. It would be much more efficient for the animal waste to be turned into Methane, Alcohol, Biodiesel or what ever else you can produce from it; but it is far from a pollution solution. In the U.S about 70 to 80% of the grains grown are feed to animals. Acording to The U.S Dept of Agriculture It takes 250lbs of grain, and 2500 gallons of water to produce 1lb of beef; to achieve this takes vast amounts of pesticides, fertilizers,land, resources, ect. I’m sorry, but producing Methane from animal waste just does not get me very excited.

    Take Care,
    James

  25. Kevin March 14, 2008 at 6:37 am

    Thom and Brian Lang.

    Human waste is used to produce power. I went on a tour of a Sewage treatment plant (Northern Beaches Sewage treatment plant, Sydney) today and found out.

    Toilet paper eventually breaks down along with the feces to form sludge. The problem with Human waste is that people also flush down Condoms, Tampons, plastic bags, Cotton Buds, and other material that is not Biodegradable and this is seperated in a machine called the screener. The waste collected from the screener is carted off to the landfill. However, the sludge is then put into Giant Vats where anarobic bacteria(through their metabolism) break down the sludge and forms the methane. this methane is then collected and used to generate power for the Sewage treatment plant.

    The people at the plant found that the Vats was producing more energy than required and is now pumping it back into the grid.

  26. FuzzLinks » POO P... March 14, 2008 at 6:36 am

    [...] Poop-power is not a new phenomenon, as methane-powered generators have existed for a while, and even larger scale developments have used poo-power as a way to meet energy needs. But powering a state with poo? This is exactly what Californian utility PG&E has just started to do…http://www.inhabitat.com/2008/03/13/poop-power-giant-vat-of-crap-to-produce-natural-gas-for-ca/ [...]

  27. Seán Fogarty March 14, 2008 at 5:32 am

    In reference to my last post, I am still curious as to how they collect the manure, since the most effective way, and presumably cost efficient too, would be to keep the animals indoors permanently but this is obviously at odds with bucolic images posted.

  28. Hugo March 14, 2008 at 5:20 am

    Wow, I’m impressed. According to the story it only takes five cows to power a house. Is it really that efficient? I find it hard to believe. If you could turn all the cows’ food to energy, you should get enough power for your home, just from some grass.

    Anyway, I think this is a nice solution for the cow-poo problem. But, you can’t collect it when the cows are running around in fields, and imprison them all day isn’t very humane, now is it.

    But, anyway, it IS possible to get energy out of people-poo, we do it here on a small pilot- scale with some promising results. Larger projecs are in the making.

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  31. oakling March 13, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Well, this should balance out the cow farts.

  32. Brian Lang March 13, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    @Thom:
    Human effluent has lots of other junk in it. Toilet paper being one of the largest components.
    @jamie:
    They’re simply dropping the poo into a large tank and waiting for it to decompose. One of the products of decomposition is methane. Then they simply collect it, compress it and add it to the natural gas grid.
    @andy banx:
    I agree. Carbon Dioxide emissions need to be reduced as much as possible, as fast as possible. That, and we need to build carbon dioxide scrubbers for the atmosphere. Unfortunately, no one has built efficient devices to do so yet.

  33. Thom March 13, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Can someone tell me why this can’t be done with human effluent? We already collect it and spend lots of money and energy to alter it so that it can be dumped into the ocean, as is the case in Vancouver. And we have more people in cities than cows.

  34. jamie March 13, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    How much energy does it take to turn the poo into power?

  35. Seán Fogarty March 13, 2008 at 10:05 am

    How is the manure collected?

    In Ireland we collect maure using slatted floors beneath where the animals feed

  36. andy banx March 13, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Combustion of methane still produces Carbon Dioxide…PG&E could really prove commitment to planetary health by creating a mitigating solution for the byproduct!

    http://www.chm.davidson.edu/ChemistryApplets/calorimetry/HeatOFCombustionOfMethane.html

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