Friday, August 08, 2008

I work with pooh ...

No, not Winnie the Pooh. Pig pooh, cow pooh, and chicken pooh. Fortunately, I don't work with it all the time, but we (I'm using the "royal we" here, as in my support scientists work with it far more often than I do) do on occasion. We have several projects going, mostly revolving around wastewater processing (for elimination of nitrogen, phosphorous, trace metals, pathogens, etc etc) and bioenergy.

In the bioenergy realm, the most currently direct route of pooh to bioenergy is via anaerobic digestion. Here, microorganisms convert the organics in the pooh to methane (see my entries entitled "Bacterial Farts"). That methane is then run through a combustion engine attached to an electric generator, and viola! electricity. Which reminds me, I probably should do an entry on anaerobic digestion. It'll be fun, honest!

At any rate, I haven't really hid my work from my friends, though it's certainly the type of work I wouldn't recommend bringing home (ha ha ha, funny eh?). And I guess that even though I work with pooh, someone has to do it right? Right? Well, at any rate ... speaking with one of my old college buddies, and very good friend, he tipped me off to one of the local power companies in his area which was working with the local farmers to generate electricity from their cow pooh. It's called Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) Cow Power program.

According to CVPS:
Cow Power farms are located all across Vermont. There are currently four farms online and producing electricity in Bridport, Richford, Sheldon and St. Albans. All the farms have well over 500 cows, and produce or are expected to produce between 1.2 and 3.5 million killowatt-hours of electricity a year.
When you consider that the average electrical consumption per household is approximately 10,000 kWh, that means that CVPS Cow Power can provide enough electricity for about 120 to 350 families. At the low end, that's 30 houses for every farm. At the high end that's 85 houses for every farm. With a bit more efficiency (both in generating and using the electricity) we might approach a 1 farm to 100 houses ratio. And that's just on the farms that have ~500 cows. There are concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) which house thousands of animals. Not to mention that these are the systems which only deal with animal waste. Imagine turning human pooh into energy by bringing municipal waste online with our 300 million plus population here in the United States. Remember, everybody poops.

So, kudos to CVPS and their Cow Power program. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of these initiatives in the near future. As we move towards these renewable sources of energy (it's renewable because animals just aren't going to stop pooping), it also frees up our reliance on foreign energy. This biogas could be cleaned up (also known as scrubbing, to remove contaminating gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide) for example and turned into CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) or LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) for vehicle fuel. Or, it could be used to displace NG which we are currently using for electricity production, which could then be diverted to transporation (a la T. Boone Pickens Plan). And another benefit? This doesn't impact our food supplies one bit. Heck, if anything ... it may lead to an increase in animal production!

Economic issues aside, one fact remains. We have a potential source of energy which is barely being utilized. I've listed a couple of success stories, and now it's up to us to demand that the infrastructure be put in place (it's going to cost us, but we've been down this road before) to bring these alternative energy sources online en masse. The sooner we do that, the sooner we become energy independent.


Philip H. said...

This type of program is just what we need around here - a serious look at using an emerging technology to meet our energy needs. And, so long as we remain carnivores or omnivores, its renewable.

Tom said...

Exactly. What's currently killing me is that T. Boone Pickens is running his "Plan" ad's and I really don't see Congress paying much attention to it. Maybe I've tuned the politicians out, but I don't see them making a concerted effort to let the tax payers (their bosses) know that "Hey, we're looking at this stuff."

Instead, they're approaching a recess. Makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Philip H. said...

Here's a link I just came across to an "old" report on alternative energy - which prominently mentions biologically derived energy - much like your cow power program.