Enormous Amounts of Cow Power, Enormous Amounts of GHG Reductions!

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Enormous Amounts of Cow Power, Enormous Amounts of GHG Reductions!

At American Natural Gas, we are on target to meet our goal of using 100% renewable natural gas by the year 2020. Renewable natural gas is chemically identical to natural gas derived from traditional resources, but it is derived from organic biomass that would otherwise be considered a waste product. What does it mean when we say cow power then?

Cow power is the utilization of the manure from the cows on feedlots and dairy farms to produce clean burning natural gas. Usually, the manure from cows is flushed into a small man-made lake called a lagoon or is collected to apply on farmland. The problem with these techniques is that the manure from the cows organically breaks down and forms gas that is released into the atmosphere. A large component of that gas is methane.

Methane, when it is released directly into the atmosphere, is a very potent greenhouse gas, roughly 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. When it is harnessed, refined, and stored though, it becomes renewable natural gas, a clean-burning energy source. Instead of bringing the manure into the open air via land spreading or an uncovered lagoon, it is brought into an anaerobic digestion system. Anaerobic digestion works by bringing the manure into a closed system that is starved of oxygen and that hosts a group of specialized microbes that thrive in those anoxic conditions. The microbes systematically break down the manure into biogas that is rich in methane, essentially accelerating the process that would occur in traditional conditions. Rather than being released into the atmosphere, the biogas is piped from the closed anaerobic digestion system and cleaned into renewable natural gas, also known as biomethane or sustainable natural gas.

Natural gas is the cleanest burning type of fuel for vehicles. Cow power, then, helps to release methane from both ends of the lifecycle of a fuel. Its production mitigates the release of methane by taking the manure out of the open environment and bringing it into an anaerobic digester. The fuel that results burns with substantially less emissions than gasoline or diesel fuel.

There is a measurement used for greenhouse gases in fuels called the carbon intensity. It is measured as the grams of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per megajoule of energy in a fuel over the entire lifecycle of a given fuel’s production and use.  Because of its double-pronged approach, cow power, or dairy renewable natural gas as its sometimes called, has the lowest carbon intensity of all possible fuels, including solar to electric or hydrogen fuel cells. As measured by the State of California, the mitigation aspect means that cow power, over its lifecycle, actually removes greenhouse gases from the environment! As much lower as solar to electric is than diesel fuel, cow power renewable natural gas is roughly three and a half times lower in carbon intensity. Cow power is the best possible fuel for the environment by an enormous amount!

About the Author Trey Teal has over 15 years of experience in the renewable energy industry working on commercial and grant-funded renewable energy R&D and production. He has experience working with renewable natural gas, anaerobic digestion, biodiesel, and gasification for projects with the private, public, academic, and military sectors. In addition to working with ANG, Trey also serves as the Chief Technology Officer for Biodico. Trey holds a B.S. in Economics from Duke University and has an E.I.T. in mechanical engineering with the State of California

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