Alternative Energy

Published on May 14th, 2010 | by Guest Contributor


That’s A Lot of Poop

This fall the Liaoning Huishan Cow Farm in northeast China will open the largest manure power project in the world. The poop from 250,000 cows will be processed in four General Electric Co. biogas turbines. The plant will annually supply 38,000 megawatt-hours and is projected to supply 15,000 residents with power. But the process addresses many other environmental issues at the same time- reducing dung piles, creating fertilizer and generating heat. This week Green Inc. looked at just how powerful a pile of poop can really be.

Photo Credit: James Jordan We know about the cheese and methane, but can cows feed the power grid?

We know about the cheese and methane, but can cows feed the power grid?

“There is a huge potential in this. We are looking around the world to expand.” — Michael Wagner, GE Energy marketing leader

China has been doing this kind of power generation on a smaller scale for decades, from household digesters to large-scale biogas plants at farms and waste sites. No matter the size of the operation, cow dung is put into an oxygen-free chamber where it produces a methane/ carbon dioxide mix called biogas. China’s plan is for 300 million rural residents to use biogas for electricity by 2020- and they are planning 10,000 large-scale biogas projects on livestock farms.

One big advantage is that dairy farms are already located in the rural areas where new electricity demand is cropping up, eliminating the need for expensive new infrastructure. This cuts down on dairy’s estimated 4% of world-wide greenhouse gases.

So what is keeping other countries from doing the same thing? Economics. China will be investing heavily in the growing biogas industry and will make sure it makes economic sense. In Europe a biogas project could pay for itself in about five years- in the U.S. it can be more like ten. U.S. owners who have been successful without big incentives say it can be done, but that things like higher renewable electricity rates and tax credits similar to what solar, wind and ethanol industry projects receive are both needed to get traction.

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