It can’t be nice having to live near an open lagoon of effluent – or livestock poop to you and me. If the stench wasn’t enough, they also release methane and carbon dioxide, and during a particularly heavy rain can overflow and contaminate the groundwater used for drinking. But one farm in Indiana sees this as an opportunity to make money. By installing a biogas recovery system, they have managed to turn this stinking pool of poop into enough power for 1,000 homes.
“It works economically, but one of the main reasons we did it was to try to help take care of the odor control for the neighbors,” explained Floyd Houin, whose family has owned the farm in Indiana, called Homestead Dairy, since 1945. “The land's important to us also because we produce a crop for feeding cows. So we want to do everything we can to take care of the land and the water. We drink the same water as everyone else.”
After collecting the 70,000 gallons (265,000 liters) of manure and urine that the farm's 3,400 cows produce every day, they then pass it through an anaerobic digester. This is basically a massive shed that can be heated to accelerate the decomposition of the muck, which means they are able to not only stop the horrific smell, but also capture all the greenhouse gases that they then use to produce power. In addition to this, the digester also turns all that poop into a rich fertilizer, perfect for their fields of corn grown to feed the cows in the first place.
There are thought to be around 246 other large farms in the U.S. that currently have a digester, and it’s estimated that in the last year alone they helped prevent more than 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being pumped into the atmosphere. To put into perspective, that’s the equivalent of removing 630,000 cars from the road. The Environmental Protection Agency reckon that if all large-scale farms were to invest in this system, it would be like taking a whopping four million cars off the tarmac.
The catch, as is often the case, is the price. The system doesn’t come cheap – costing around $6 million – but Homestead Dairy estimates that with all the extra income it’s generating from selling the power back to the grid and charging food processing plants to dump their waste too, they’ll make it back within five years. So who knows, if you live near any big farms, maybe your house will become poop-powered in the near future.
Image in text (top): Farmer Ryan Rogers checks on a truck that has dumped food waste into a pit that feeds an anaerobic digester. Credit: Homestead Dairy
Image in text (bottom): Ryan shows the rich fertilizer that comes out of an anaerobic digester used to treat manure. Credit: Homestead Dairy