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Holy Cow! Bovine Gas Used to Power Milk Trucks

Holy Cow! Bovine Gas Used to Power Milk Trucks

In one of my previous lives, when I was working as a small-town newspaper reporter in my early 20s, I lived in Tulare County–where the cows outnumber the people. Whenever I’d be driving home after a weekend away, which was quite often, I always knew I was getting close by the smell.

I had some good times there, learned a ton about being a reporter and then a copy editor, made a bunch of great friends, but let’s just say that when I finally moved back to the Bay Area I didn’t look back.

There was plenty to complain about, but No. 1 on the list was always the cow stench you just couldn’t get away from. Tulare County is a huge dairy area, in case you didn’t know, and let me tell you that when you live there all those jokes about cow flatulence just aren’t funny.

So when I read this article about a dairyman who is using pure Holstein hydrocarbons to fuel two of his delivery trucks, it definitely got my attention. The “emissions” are stored in six lightweight tanks full of compressed bio-methane, where a sleeper compartment would ordinarily be–a small sacrifice to pay, I believe.

“Now we can utilize the dairy’s potential to power our trucks, in addition to generating electricity for our operations,” says Rob Hilarides, owner of Hilarides Dairy in Linsdsay, California. “This will significantly reduce our energy costs and give us some protection from volatile energy prices.”

The project, which debuted at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, this week, is the result of a public-private partnership aimed at encouraging the use of renewable bio-methane produced from the waste of food processing and dairies.

In June 2006, California’s legislature allotted $25 million dollars in grants to encourage the integration of alternative fuels into California’s market.

This technology could eventually power 1 million vehicles. “Across the nation, the benefit to the climate could be as great as taking 16 million cars off the road,” says Allen Dusault, Sustainable Conservation’s director of Sustainable Agriculture.

“In California, the manure is plentiful, the technology is here and public-private partnerships can make this work,” he said. “Biomethane is the only vehicle fuel that is carbon negative. The production process prevents greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere, and the resulting fuel is clean burning.”

The process of converting cow manure into usable gas involves flushing manure from the cows’ stalls into a covered lagoon where bacteria convert the manure to bio-gas. Then the trapped gas is sent from the lagoon to a bio-gas upgrading system to remove impurities; the pressurized bio-methane is then put into the truck’s fuel tank.

Hmm, I wonder if this whole process will help or hurt the region’s stink problem. Either way, this is a pretty great idea for minimizing pollution and diversifying energy sources.

Forget horsepower, the future of powering motor vehicles could just come from cows.

Read more: Life, Shades of Green, Transportation, , , , , ,

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Jana Ballinger

Jana Ballinger has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and copy editor for daily newspapers. She lives in a vintage house in Northern California with her husband and an orange cat.


+ add your own
8:39PM PST on Feb 17, 2011

It's really a great idea! It was very useful and unusual fuel source.Thanks for sharing this nice information with us.

8:36AM PST on Feb 4, 2011

Yes this is an old idea but maybe it is the time to get it into larger scale production however no cows round here just horses,sheep & goats so more difficult to collect the manure but if I can work it out it will be worth doing?

6:35PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Unusual fuel source; but, I hope it catches on.

5:13PM PDT on Jul 2, 2010

I saw a car powered on chicken manure over 40 years ago, and have been researching and campaigning for methane-power ever since. All manure and organic waste can be converted into methane gas, which is far better used as a source of energy than released to the atmosphere. It's not a new concept- just google "methane powered cars".

1:07PM PDT on Apr 16, 2010

thank you

7:56PM PDT on Mar 31, 2010

Useful because don't concern hurting &suffering to animals. Need to understand more for encouraging the procedure.

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