Could Methane Gas Power Our Homes?

Last week, the U.S. dairy energy and GE Energy linked up for the New York Dairy Power Summit in Syracuse, N.Y. The main talking point: generating cost-effective energy from methane produced by cow manure.

Generating renewable energy from waste is a notable trend, as climate change and waste management tops the headlines in the environmental sector. According to GE, “methane from manure is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the fluid milk value chain while also representing a largely untapped source of renewable energy.”

Photo: Flickr/kwerfeldein

The dairy industry has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, which is equivalent to removing 1.25 million passenger cars off the road every year. Photo: Flickr/kwerfeldein

New York currently has 6,200 dairy farms with more than 600,000 dairy cows. Manure from about 2,500 cows can generate enough energy to power about 200 homes. However, only 10,000 of these cows are utilized in energy production.

According to Roger George, general manager of GE Energy’s gas engine business for North America, the summit’s goal is to “jumpstart” future biogas-to-energy project developments through 2020. Based on information from the summit, pilot programs similar to New York’s may be implemented across the nation.

“New York’s dairy farmers have an opportunity to tap into a new source of revenue that will simultaneously help the state increase its renewable energy production and lower its greenhouse gas emissions,” George says, referring to New York’s “45 by 15” program.

The the state plans to receive 45 percent of its energy through energy efficiency and the production of renewable energy, including from digester biogas, by 2015.

And the savings (both environmental and monetary) could be worthwhile, according to Rick Naczi, executive vice president at Dairy Management Inc.

“We’ve estimated that this could generate $38 million in new revenue for dairy farmers around the country and offset 2 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) annually by 2020,” says Naczi. “Increased adoption of anaerobic digesters would not only expand local jobs and strengthen local economies, but move the U.S. toward creating a more sustainable food system.”

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