China’s growing dairy industry will harness the power of fermenting cow manure as a new source of electricity and fertilizer, according to a report from MIT’s Technology Review.
Small farmers have long used cow and other animal manures as a treatment to fertilize the soil, but the practice has become less popular (and feasible) in the age of industrial agriculture.
Coupled with the fact that dairy cattle flatulance and burps are a major source of greenhouse gasses, which have been linked to accelerated climate change, the entire industry really “stinks” when it comes to environmental friendliness.
A partnership between GE and Huishan Dairy in northeast China, however, is trying to reduce this negative impact and capture these harmful, smelly gasses for good instead.
When installed, Huishan Dairy will be home to the world’s largest system for generating electricity by collecting methane gas emitted by fermenting cow manure. GE is supplying the project’s gas-powered generators, and hopes that the effort will showcase the large-scale possibilities of the technology (MIT Technology Review).
MIT’s Technology Review has the details:
Huishan, one of the biggest dairies in the country, imports 3,000 cows from Australia every month to sustain its massive stock of 250,000 cows—about double the number of dairy cows in the entire state of Florida. Huishan’s new electricity generating system will process the waste from 60,000 cows and produce 5.6 megawatts of power.
You might think that the ability to harness and utilize biogases is a new technology, but versions of this concept have actually been in use in rural areas for many years.
Small farms in China and other countries often make use of enclosed manure digesters, which composts (or “digests”) organic waste by limiting access to oxygen and encourages the generation of methane and carbon dioxide by microbes in the waste. The captured gas can then be used to cooking or lighting the home.
It’s estimated that the Huishan Dairy biogas project will be able to capture 20 million cubic meters of (which is about 60 percent methane). According to the MIT article, this amount of gas would produce enough electricity to meet the needs of 3,500 American-size households.
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