Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities. One of the main offenders of these human activities? Raising livestock. In fact, globally, agriculture is the primary source of methane emissions, so much so that in 2012, the American cattle industry passed the natural gas industry for the number one spot on the methane emissions list.
Cow farts are contributing to climate change, and in beef heavy industries, this is a serious problem. For example, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, centers of fuel production and farming, produce almost one quarter of the United State’s total methane output.
But methane can be converted to energy, making it more useful than wasteful, and in Argentina, researchers are taking advantage of this potential with a new backpack developed for cows. Backpacks aren’t the average cow accessory, but then again, this is no normal backpack. They are methane collecting backpacks.
How does it work? According to Ecouterre:
“A tube stuck right into the cow’s rumen collects the gases and stores them in an inflatable sack on their back. Later the methane is purified and compressed so it can be used to generate electricity, run a refrigerator, cook or even run a car, all while keeping the methane out of the atmosphere.”
According to the Argentinean research team that developed the backpack, cows emit about 300 liters of methane per day, which can be used to run an average sized refrigerator for a day. As the cow eats and digests throughout the day, the methane goes into the tube and collects in the backpack.
While the procedure to install the backpack might make some squirm — the cows are given local anesthesia so that the tube can be inserted through a small puncture in their side — the potential of the technology is impressive, potentially reducing greenhouse gases and providing a renewable energy source.
The cow fart backpack concept still needs more testing, and given the method by which the methane is extracted, there is sure to be a discussion of ethics. If the testing and development continues, humans will have to decide whether or not they feel comfortable using cattle in this way.
Is this the energy of the future? Will cattle farms now come with backpacks? That remains to be seen, but no matter what, the innovative technology provides a platform for talking about how in the industrial meat industry we can think differently about greenhouse gases and what we do with them.
Photo Credit: Bob Jagendorf