Cow farts and the ozone layer

I don’t know how many of you haven’t seen this (it is a little old) but in case you missed it the first time around, cows fart a lot, and it is not good for the atmosphere. Firstly, I’d like to say that the idea of a cow backpack that collects farts seems like something only Willie Wonka could conceive of. Secondly, this is just one more unfortunate example of our current infrastructure’s inefficiency. All of the methane that is escaping from agriculture and biological waste is fuel we are essentially throwing away.

I’ve heard opinions to the effect that we should drastically reduce or eliminate beef livestock because of the amount of methane they produce (and it is about 23 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2) but I don’t think this is a realistic solution. This kind of thinking falls in the ‘let’s take a hatchet to ourselves’ category. It’s just not going to happen in the near future; too many people depend on cattle to make a living. A much better solution is altering cattle feed so they produce less methane, and this I can totally get on board with. But even with specialized feeds we’re only reducing the amount of methane that is released from livestock, and the methane released from things like biological waste is unaffected.

Methane is definitely usable as a fuel, and burning it is actually good for the atmosphere, even though CO2 is created in the process. Why is that? Because methane is 23 times stronger than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. When you burn methane, you get one molecule of CO2(g) and  two molecules of H2O(g). If the water vapor is condensed and collected, the net contribution to the ‘greenhouse effect’ will be negative, at least relative to letting the methane escape.

Luckily, methods of collecting methane from beef cattle have already been developed. Collecting ‘methane emissions’ may be a bit more difficult, but at least for non-pasture cattle it should be relatively feasible. In the spirit of efficiency and simplicity, I propose that on-site methane collection be integrated with the farm itself. This way we avoid having to transport the methane, and at the same time the farm becomes much more self-sufficient with its energy use. Farmers would save money, farms would need less energy from the main power grid, and the atmosphere would be shielded from excess methane.


~ by ethmgallagher on March 24, 2009.

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