Voices of the Future (5) - Fuel From Poo? I think YES!

By David Snook
Forest Science Major, Graduating August, 2015

According to the U.S EPA there are over 2.2 million farms in the United States. Face it; the majority of farmers out there aren’t doing if for fun. Most of these farmers either raise beef, dairy, swine or and/or poultry to create either all or some of their income.

Either way… that is a lot of poop! What do these farmers do with all this manure? You may be familiar with driving through the obvious aromas of manure while farmers are spreading it on their fields.

There are many regulations to how farmers use their manure. I know from my own experience living on our family farm, that my father has to document the amount of manure every time we clean out our barns and when we spread it. For chicken and turkey farmers, they must store the manure in a building that is built simply for that purpose.

Ask yourself this. Is there anything else that farmers can do other than spread it on their fields? The answer is yes! Use it for energy! There are two ways that farmers can utilize manure for energy. They can either dry it to below 20% moisture content to burn for cooking or heating, or they can make a nice sloppy mixture of manure and water, and let it ferment in an air tight tank to create methane gas and carbon dioxide, which is then used as fuel for electricity and heating. What is even more amazing is that if the farmers don’t just burn it, they can use the byproducts of manure from the fermenter to spread on their fields with the same nutrients as before they fermented it. IT’S THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!

Even though this seems like an amazing combination of poo and energy, there are only about 150 farms reported to have digesters capable of converting manure to energy. WHY?? Because this is an expensive operation! On average it costs $18,000 – $30,000 to get one of these up and running. Now that’s some expensive gas! There aren’t too many farmers that I know of that would spend that kind of money on one of these systems. The government needs to assist farmers in building these digester/fermenters to convert manure to energy. You may be wondering why the government should fork out money to help pay for these? The more people who use these fermenters, the better off the environment is. Besides, the government spends a ton of money on a ton of other less important things right? How can this be?

There are many benefits of having a fermenter!

-Decrease methane gas to the atmosphere
-Decreased smell of manure
- It is a renewable resource (cows are always pooping!!)
- Farmers can still use manure as fertilizer
- It will help farmers greatly decrease or completely get rid of their heating & electricity bills
- Can also provide energy for others

As you can see, there are many benefits of converting manure to energy. The government should be encouraging farmers to build digesters (they should help with the bill!) to better the environment and help with the fight against global warming with harmful methane gas. With more fermenters across the country and around the world it will make a big difference!

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Mike Jacobs said…
This is a great concept for farms large enough to justify the expense, but it is NEVER a good idea to have the "government" (that's you and me, by the way) make poor spending decisions to invest in projects which have a cost disproportionate to the benefit.

In fact, it's never a good idea to have the government spend our money on ANY private sector enterprise. This student could benefit him/herself and those he/she influences greatly by reading the works of founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison or Patrick Henry.

A few other great book selections which clearly demonstrate the wisdom of our founders in defending private enterprise and the eschewing government "help" are:
- The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
- The Law by Frederic Bastiat
- The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- The Theme is Freedom by M. Stanton Evans
Andy B. said…
Looks like win/win technology. Ideally, it will be rewarded by the market.

I agree in principle with Mike Jacobs comment. Nevertheless, the tax code and agencies are full of credits and incentives to encourage desirable activity, including farming, forest management, and higher education. Easy to understand why the public is conditioned to ask the government for help. Doesn't make it right, just reality.
David Snook said…
Mike, I understand what you are saying. I guess I was implying that in general, these systems are good for making energy and bettering the environment. I should have tailored this post be more specific for larger farming operations.
There are however considerably more small farms than there are large farms ( http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/176087/page6.pdf) Even though I am not an economist, I believe that this would be a wise cost (for you and I), as it would be worth it down the road if it helps to diminish some of the methane that is a key ingredient to our ever rising temperatures around the world. A bit off topic, but you and I are paying for the government to fight illegal drugs. Lets look specifically at marijuana. The government spends $10-$14 billion dollars annually for marijuana prohibition. If they were to legalize and tax it, there would be a lot of revenue for the U.S. Anyways they are fighting a losing battle. What I am trying to say is that, for the little bit of money that the government would pay to support environmentally friendly projects it would benefit the world more in the long run,even if it costs more up front.

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