Cow manure can help fight global warming

June 23, 2009 9:27:57 PM PDT
Energy experts met in Sacramento for the first biomethane summit. The idea is to harness methane gas from cattle waste. It's something many California dairy farmers want to learn more about. California's happy cows are already a source for meat and milk. But we may soon be turning to them for transportation fuel too.

Top experts in biomethane met in Sacramento for the first ever national summit on the topic, talking about taking cow waste, harnessing the methane it emits and turning it into natural gas to power vehicles.

"This is extremely exciting, and this is really a budding industry here in California. It's just getting started with tremendous potential," said Biomethane Summit Organizer Erik Neandross.

It could be the future for California's ailing dairy farms which have seen milk prices and profits drop lately.

About a dozen are already trying it here, with far more interested, but they can't afford the equipment.

"Costs are extraordinary. To place a methane digester on a dairy, our average cost is about $1.2 million per installation," said Western United Dairymen Michael Marsh.

If production costs ever go down, it's a fuel that could take off in demand. Biomethane can power anything that runs on natural gas, like busses.

While biomethane helps reduce California's dependence on foreign oil, it has environmental benefits too. It'll help meet the state's aggressive reductions in greenhouse gasses.

Transportation is responsible for nearly 40 percent of emissions that cause global warming.

"Biomethane as a fuel can produce 80-90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to traditional fuels such as gasoline and diesel," said California Air Resources Board Member DeeDee D'Adamo.

The industry isn't quite there yet, but the goal is to make biomethane cheaper than regular gasoline. And there will have to be a lot more natural gas vehicles on the market to increase demand for this up-and-coming fuel.

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