Manure may be the fuel of the future

An Indiana farm that converts cattle droppings into natural gas has captured the attention of energy companies and the federal government.

By Jason Notte Apr 3, 2013 7:03AM

Cows on a farm (© tbradford/E+/Getty Images)When talking to The New York Times about what could be America's next big alternative fuel source, Erin Fitzgerald of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was as diplomatic about the touchy subject as a spokesperson can be: 

"It's not glamorous. It doesn't really catch your eye like wind and solar."

Those are likely the most charitable two sentences about fecal matter ever spoken. Fitzgerald is talking about manure, which is now being processed into a natural gas source with enough power to run milking equipment for 30,000 cows, 42 tractor-trailers, 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop, a dairy museum and a movie theater at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana.

All of that is run by the methane produced by 5 million pounds of manure, and that has caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy. The agency notes that the farm is taking 2 million gallons of diesel off American highways each year by using agricultural waste to run the largest natural gas fleet in America.

The farm's $12 million "digester" facilities capture the natural gas and either feed it to electric generators or pump it underground to a fueling station. The leftover waste finds its way to the farm's fields as fertilizer.


Dennis Smith, the director of the Clean Cities program at the Department of Energy, said about 8,000 large dairy and swine farms could produce fuel with a model similar to the one at Fair Oaks Farms, replacing as much as 10 billion gallons of gas on American roads each year. That's still a small fraction of the 134 billion gallons of gasoline that the Energy Information Administration says Americans consumed in 2011. But as with the small percentage of folks who use goats instead of lawn mowers -- including Google (GOOG), according to Tech Crunch -- every bit helps.


Fair Oaks' efforts were enough to persuade Chicago company AMP Americas to partner with the company and produce more manure-based gas for 15 natural gas filling stations in Texas and the Midwest. That may not be a sea change in energy, but it's not just a load of excrement either.


More on moneyNOW

Apr 3, 2013 1:48PM
Washington DC is already the leading producer of manure.
Apr 3, 2013 10:05AM
Wow! Now we are going back to the days of the old west. Don't touch our reserves in fossil fuels and use manure as our main fuel as the replacement. Washington DC would be a great exporter of manure (BS) if that ever came to pass. DC manufactures more bs than all the cows in Texas can ever hope to produce.
Apr 3, 2013 9:32AM

There also not allowing all that methane to go into the atmosphere  from the decomposing manure

Apr 3, 2013 10:00AM

It is being used as fuel in third world. Just keep eyes open and find many

sources of alternate fuel.

Apr 3, 2013 2:41PM
Why not use human waste at sewage farms?
Apr 3, 2013 9:31AM
Didn't they do this in the "Mad Max" movie Beyond Thunderdome?
Apr 3, 2013 4:33PM
I hear Congress is biding on the project.  It will pass if they can get it through both outhouses.
Apr 3, 2013 9:55AM
does it lower the cost of a gallon of milk? increase margin? how much money do they save making their own electricity and fuel source?
Apr 3, 2013 10:14AM
I would like to see more production in agricultural waste. Start with anyone who backed the Monsanto Free Pass from Prosecution, in Congress and The House.
Apr 3, 2013 10:06AM
Apr 3, 2013 4:00PM
D.C. will be the fuel capitol of the world.  The U.S. will be back in first place again.
Apr 3, 2013 2:21PM
I hope this isn't just a bunch of bull!
Apr 3, 2013 3:39PM

QUOTE:  "enough power to run milking equipment for 30,000 cows, 42 tractor-trailers, 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop, a dairy museum and a movie theater "


Add to that every federal and state legislature throughout DC and all fifty states where it is a self renewing fuel source.

Apr 3, 2013 5:38PM
This is nothing new. They have talked about this for decades. Now if the gov and industry would just act on it.
Apr 3, 2013 8:16PM

Isn't that something.  With all the liberal College professors and and lefty loony's, it took a midwest farmer to figure (90% chance he is a conservative) this out.

I don't know how the left is going to handle this.  After all, they are use to throwing it...not burning it.

Be prepared to dodge the coming terd storm.

Apr 3, 2013 6:59PM
Did they do a "study"  yet?  I didn't read the entire article. But, I know farts have burned for years.  So, if a "study" verifies gas can be made from $hitt, then our enery problems are solved by CONGRESS! They've been putting out Shitt all my life.  So, since they haven't already turned their Shitt into gas, I still think they can best be described by C-orrupt, O-verpaid and underworked, N-onproductive, G-reedy, R-etarded (can't add and subtract), E-gotistical, S-tale (same ole bickering over and over), S-uper sorry.  They should have been turning that Shitt into gas for years.
Apr 3, 2013 11:42PM
this is nothing others have pointed out. there's also a method that's in use and growing as a potential fuel source: Anaerobic digestion. Look it up.... Just like you seldom hear about geothermal, yet it's used all over the world.
People don't seem to want to wake up to the fact that there's too much money and power invested in keeping things the way they are and have been (infrastructure, suppliers, parts suppliers, distribution co's, consumption levels, you name it), that you are not going to get any critical mass to bring about the necessary changes, and 2) we NEVER talk about conservation anymore - of energy, fuel, they maintain their power & profits because they have something we want. Nor do we talk about being self-sufficient - each home _could_ provide it's own energy needs. 
Apr 3, 2013 7:09PM

DC is already so deep that we can't shovel them out fast enough.


Apr 3, 2013 6:33PM
Why limit it to just cows? There are more animals on the farms. Chickens, pigs, horses, and even humans produce waste in the same manner and could be used, or recycled if you prefer in the same manner
Apr 3, 2013 3:09PM
It has been the fuel for ever.  That what the war with the Taliban is over.  They don't want there little girls in school because the pick up dung for cooking.  Fresh dung plus straw is placed on the side of the hut to dry. Then used to cook.  Farm methane was one of the big scam back in the 1990.   Google cow dung fuel.  Ants and termites are the biggest producer of methane.  That because the represent the largest biomass on earth.  Awe smell like money.
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