back to article US dairyman inaugurates bovine biogas plant

A California dairyman yesterday inaugurated his very own methane-producing plant - an industrial-scale facility which can produce enough natural gas to power 1,200 homes a day. David Albers, of Riverdale, is the brains behind the Vintage Dairy Biogas Project which processes the output of his 5,000 head of cattle, Reuters …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Other kind of biogas?

    When I saw the headline I assumed that he was somehow capturing cow farts, which of course are a major contributor to global warming. Was that just me?

  2. Anonymous Coward


    We could do the same in the UK for much cheaper cost.

    Instead of building a tank the size of 5 footie fields all you would need to do is vacuum seal the House of Commons, then put an extraction fan in the roof.

  3. Sam

    title required

    Is that proper football fields, or the gurly merkin one where they all wear padding?

  4. Tim Blair

    sniff sniff

    sounds like a load of shit to me...

    I'll get my coat...

  5. Fred

    Can't resist

    Sounds like bullshit to me.

    Mine's the one with the arms tied together.

  6. Chris
    Thumb Up

    Actually not a bad idea

    On the scale of things. It makes the cattle farming slightly more sustainable by recycling the waste products (IE, converting what is left of the energy that went into the feed that the cattle didn't absorb). Going back to what they taught is in grade school, eh? Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

    At any rate, it's better then tilling under wheat fields for biofuel plants.

  7. Jon Double Nice

    Shouldn't that be '5000

    arses of cattle'...?

  8. Tim Schomer

    This all sounds like

    A load of Bull...

    / Yes, the brown leather one please....

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Football field

    nanoWales ..

    More worrying is that they might using American football standard size pitches and not a proper English football size pitch. This could not only lead to everyone being very confused but the inevitable problems converting feet in meters is likely to mean our bovine biogas plant crashes and burns on take off.

    Much sorrow all round as that huge pile of shit hits the fan.

    I also like that proper football pitches have variable sizes, as befits an "approximate" scale. Don't come to me with .. "Well that's 4.183 football pitches", its not its 4, show me who ever tried to play on 0.183 of a pitch apart from the under 5's and Mido (the lazy git).

  10. Herby
    IT Angle

    Probably most welcome...

    If this is the farm operation I think it is, confining the Bull S*** to an enclosed "digester" would be most welcome. As one who has traveled down Interstate 5 in California's central valley, there is a MOST (I don't think El Reg has a unit for it) odoriferous feed lot next to the freeway. ANY containment of the smell is worthwhile. The side effect of generating combustible gas adds icing to the cake.

    Note: If you have driven I-5, you know EXACTLY where this is. It isn't difficult to sense it, and it lasts for about a mile or so. Winding up windows helps very little!

  11. Morely Dotes

    NCAA regulation football field

    For those trying to convert the "five football fields" reference to nanoWales, this may help:

    A regulation NCAA football field is 57,600 square feet, so 5 such would be 288,000 square feet.

    Of course, according to , "The dimensions of a regulation football field vary depending on the whether it is a high school, college or professional field that you are measuring."

    And American football is more closely akin to rugby (for cowards) than it is to real football.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Oh, God...I Just Can't Resist...


    There, I feel better now.

    It's the smelly one, over there...

  13. Robert Moore

    I thought I had a shitty job

    Imagine working there.

  14. Charles Manning

    Put the Google container data centres in the fields

    Why pipe the stuff to PG&E when you could just directly power a Google data centre? There's your IT angle.

    No doubt this is done to help PG&E meet its greeny quota, whether or not this is the best way to use the stuff is debatable.

    Of course there are some good upsides here. Methane has approx 25 times the greenhouse effect of the CO2 which makes burning the stuff a good idea.

    Many efluent treatment works harvest the methane and burn it to make their own power, so this is nothing new. The treatment plant in Christchurch, NZ makes all its own power + puts some back into the grid (seasonally variable).

    Communities in India and elsewhere have been using methane digesters for a long time (20+ years) to get home cooking gas and still keep the slurry for fertilising fields (previously they would burn the cow pats, destroying the fertiliser).

  15. Highlander
    Paris Hilton

    Not close enough?

    Why is that a problem? Smaller scale or more remote operations simply have a wind powered compressor to collect the gas and store it ready for collection by their gas company. Heck re-package it as the new propane and sell it at convenience stores to folks needing something to power their huge gas grills and patio heaters.

    Paris, because.

  16. Name

    Something about this stinks...

    They're so full of shit...

    What a waste of cow patties...

    What will I step in now when I go cow-tipping...?

    Somebody light a match...

  17. Will


    974.8193 nanowales

  18. Richard

    Nothing new here

    A farmer a few miles down the road from here has been doing this for the past 15 years:

  19. SysKoll

    Please express manure weight in BS per press release

    Ye flippin' gods. Where to start?

    "Power 1200 houses a day". So that's 8400 houses per week, great. If this thing runs for a year, it will power 400,000 homes -- a large city.

    Oh, you mean that it supplies power for 1200 houses? So what's this "a day" thing? Mixing up watts and watt.hours again, are we?

    And a pox on your house for expressing a size in football fields.

    Lester, you should really filter that kind of PR drivel and turn it into English (or even American, if you must) before it hits The Reg's site.

  20. Richard

    Flatulence, not news

    This is hardly newsworthy. Perhaps in California, but slurry digesters have been built and operated (and closed as uneconomic) in the UK (Holsworthy in Devon) several years ago. No doubt the Swiss/Germans/Scandiwegians got there even earlier.

    There have also been chicken shit power plants, as it were.

  21. Old Man - Grey Fleece

    7 plus 1

    I think we should be very worried about this technology - it is obviously essential that the effluent goes through a tank with 7 plus 1 sides. Terry P should be told.

  22. MrWeeble

    gas transmission lines

    It occurs to me that the lack of gas transmission lines would prevent them from producing gas for consumption, but could they not feed the gas into a mini gas burning power station and supply electricity to the grid instead. (of course only if they are on the grid)

    Alternatively, what would the economics be in liquefying it into LNG and then transporting it by tanker?

  23. Elmer Phud
    Paris Hilton

    Careful with conversion

    When converting to nanoWales remember that the football fields will be U.S. measure, not U.K.

    If it had been reported in Olympic swimming pools all would be much clearer.

    Paris - as there's always a lot of bullshit around.

  24. ian
    Thumb Up


    As I read it, 4 cows will keep my home well lit at no expense other than the care and feeding of the cattle - and that might be taken care of by selling the milk and the, erm solid waste byproducts. As I don't have 4 "football fields" available at the bottom of my garden for the digester, I could just dig deeper than wider.

    Brilliant! And should one of the beasts develop mad cow, I could tip it into the digester and be done. I propose a new unit of measurement: the bovine volt or bolt.

  25. heystoopid


    Wish , they would do the same for those Texas cattle feed lots , the stench at times is unbearable unless you get up wind !

  26. The Prevaricator

    goat and sheep might also be required here...

    Great! 5000 of the 2 million cows in California put to use generating enough stench for 1200 homes.

    The population of California is 36 million...

    Do they have many goats or sheep there??? Shame they don't have too many elephants... Maybe, everyone in California should walk around wearing personal gas collecting kits. Now that would be the future!

    *awaits Arnie to pass the bill implementing this*

    Mine's the one made from a synthetic fabric coalesced from bovine methane based hydrocarbons... eww.

  27. Steve Roper

    Every dairy CAN participate...

    ... because those that are not close to gas lines can have the gas pumped into a semi-trailer sized tanker, which can then be trucked to the gas works or at least the nearest gas-line injection point. Using trucks powered by gas, if necessary.

    It's only small compared to our overall energy needs, but every little helps, and as a bonus it avoids additional methane being pumped into our atmosphere. Whether or not you believe anthropogenic climate change, I support it because if nothing else, it means I don't have to breathe cow farts!

  28. E

    No, it's a bad idea.

    Bad idea just like biofuel for automobiles and jets. Do a carbon cycle analysis: grow plants, fix carbon, turn plants into cattle, turn cattle shit into methane, burn the methane, release carbon as CO2. At best it is neutral qua methane & CO2, but of course the system is not 100% efficient, so some methane will escape. As for carbon: the plants are turned into hydrocarbons at at least as good efficiency than they would be if they just died and fell on the ground and turned into coal over a few 10K years. So what the scheme really does is move the carbon out of the plant-biological carbon cycle where it is sequestered in coal and into the atmosphere. This is counterproductive.

    This, and all the schemes to replace gasoline et al with bio-fuels precisely avoid the problem of burning too much hydrocarbons. These schemes are only about increasing domestic self sufficiency in hydrocarbon fuel, not about reducing output of CO2 (& also methane in this case).

    A better approach would be to produce more efficient motors, so less fuel is burned and less CO2 released into the atmosphere.

    Why is it that a government, even in the USA, can instruct electricity companies how to produce power, but cannot instruct auto companies to produce more efficient motors?

  29. Eric Olson
    Thumb Up

    @ E

    I think the point being missed is that unlike biofuels, this is waste product that was already being produced, and will continue to be produced regardless of whether it can become profitable. The problem with biofuels as they currently stand is that they take food product out of the food supply or encourage the slash and burn of rain forests and marginal temperate lands to create more arable land, at the expense of plants that were doing a better job as carbon sinks. The prize goes to the person who can take waste from agriculture, like cornstalks, soybean plants sans soybeans, etc. and turn those into alcohols that can be burned for fuel, or takes native plants that have an annual life cycle, or perennial root system, such as sawgrass, and just mow it once in a while and make alcohols out of that. Those require little to no attention from farmers, no fertilizer, pesticides, or huge outlay of carbon-creating technologies to produce. They just happen, because they are native, and aren't food products, meaning that it does not impact commodity prices (see wheat, which is not being planted for crops like soybeans, and more commonly, corn, here in the US), and it becomes much closer to truly being carbon neutral.

    As to cow shit, it happens anyway. We can get into some big ruckus about how cows shouldn't be kept, grain is better than meat, milk is cruel/indigestible, etc., but lets be honest with ourselves, eco-nuts.... people still want their meat, there are a large number of people who can process lactose without problem (myself and other people of N. European decent, as well as other locales around the world that started to drink animal milk after being weaned), and grass-raised livestock, besides being tastier, are again, taking plants that we don't/can't eat, and turning them into caloric substances that we can consume and get nutrients out of.

    So normally, cow shit, when shat out, will sit in the sun or trench, release it's methane slowly, cause odious clouds to billow over freeways and towns depending on the wind, as well as run off into waterways and poison them with massive amount of phosphorous and nitrogen, causing vast algae blooms in water ways, lakes, and ponds, which in turn die and cause releases of methane and CO2 as it decomposes, and in lakes and ponds, can cause an O2 debt in the water in the winter when it freezes, causing huge die-offs of the fish. This can even happen in the summer for really polluted lakes in lakes that don't normally freeze over. Said fish die, and besides being a environmental disaster, can spread disease among birds and mammals who eat said fish, causing more problems along the food chain. See the issue?

    So, take the cow shit, put it into an enclosed tank, add enzymes or other starter material to cause digestion of the shit, collect gases, which you can then use for a multitude of things, like powering your farm, selling to the grid, or in this case, power other people's homes directly. The dried materials left over from digestion, as in the article, can be used to create cow bedding (not 100% certain why, but okay...) or, as I've seen another farmer do, create flowerpots that can be placed into the ground to provide a planter than will be consumed by the plant as fertilizer. Also acceptable is to be spread on a farmer's field as a fertilizer to grow more food crops. Another ingenious use they are trying in the Midwest of the US is the connect a methane supply up with an alcohol fuel plant, and burn the methane to produce the vast amounts of electricity and heat needed to turn plants into alcohols. It's a little better than coal and gas, though nuclear would work too, as it's technically zero emission... at least gaseous emissions of CO2 and methane and CO. Mind the glowing 55 gallon drums, please.

    So, this is the evolution of power production. I think the problem is people are expecting perfection yesterday, and can't understand why it hasn't happened yet. It's a process. Carbon neutral has existed since the 1950s... but people get all NIMBY when you propose a nuclear reactor to be built within 3 billion miles of them, and think they the waste will be piped directly into their children's cereal or something. But hey, I just think that if France can do it and they still aren't mutants (well, no more than before) then the US and UK should be able to figure it out pretty well.

  30. skeptical i
    Thumb Up

    Thx, Prevaricator ...

    ... for reminding me of that scene in _Brazil_ :D

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    I am disappointed.

    I thought some genius had captured the methane produced by the animal itself. This is just a straightforward tail end product bio-digestion. What a disappointment. Still it produces some interesting numbers 1200 homes, 5000 cattle, the size of nearly five football fields (US football fields) (presumably 2 hectares). Of course we have 20m homes and a few spare offices and factories and it is easy to work out we need a gas production plant about half the size of Wales. Not only that but the cattle have to be kept inside (can’t afford to let any of the product escape). That is factory farming in anyone’s book, very non-PC these days. What would Jamie say?

    Of course we could use other animals, but we still have the factory farming problem. And then there are human beings, we have a useful output and we have built ourselves a nice little collection system. On the other hand gas production from waste is dependent upon the nature and volume of the output, humans are not very good at this as they don’t eat grass. So we need another solution. Perhaps we could teach cows to use the toilet.


    So the plant will power 1,200 homes a day, what sort of energy unit is that I want to know? I am quite happy in measuring in Smoots but a home per day sounds more like Godzilla’s consumption rate.

    Anonymous Old Git that’s me

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    ecce 7 + 1

    I am glad there are some TP fans about. I was beginning to feel quite lonely.

    Anonymous Old Git that’s me

  33. Scott Mckenzie

    House Of Commons

    Or the US equivalent, imagine if someone could cleverly harness all of the bullshit in there, or from PR companies....

    We'd never have to worry about anything energy related ever again, ever.

  34. Adam

    Tom Good?

    Didn't Tom Good do this on "The Good Life", about 35 years ago?

    Margot and I await the announcement that Ford are releasing a new rotary-cultivator-based car with blustery impatience.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As the bard would say...

    ...something is rotten in the state of California.

  36. Robert Orr

    Power 1200 homes per day from 5,000 cows dung?

    I.m not sure how much gas a typical american home consumes, but at best if we asume each cow produces around 20Kg of dung, we have 100 tons a day, and if this had a COD(Chemical Oxygen Deman) level of say 70Kg/M3 we would have at most 3,500m3 of biogas each day. I somehow doubt whether 3 m3 of gas per day would power a village hut in Africa, never mind a US or EU home. Such claims should be subjected the basic math before being published.

    I speak with some authorithy as at present we are taking the dung from a colony of 400,000 Buffalo in Pakistan, and turning that into Organic fertiliser and Biogas. No doubt California Cows have a better diet but not that good, unless they go Supersize at their local eaterie! Still whatever the performance, Good for them that they are taking this great initiative.

    Robert Orr

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Gas Transmission *Lines*???!!!

    Don't you think they'll be prone to leaking? are they suspended in catenaries between pylons?

    Still I worked in a pub a long time back and one of the bouncers worked during the day on a farm. He'd just finished cleaning out the cow byre (with a thing like a window squeegie) when he spotted one of the herd about to destroy his hard work... lifted up it's tail and put his hand over the output port of the cow. The resulting output stream found it's way through the gaps in his fingers and he had a shower of shite instead :)

    Mine's the cowhide one next to the stetson

  38. Anonymous Coward

    thats nothing

    5000 cattle for 1200 homes? the average friday night in our local indian resteraunt can beat hat hands down - they have no smoking signs for far more serious reason than to keep the smoking police happy...

  39. Boris H.

    What bout Pigs

    Can one of those smart people convert the process for use with pigs, that way we can finally have MAD MAX style cities!

  40. E

    @ Eric Olson

    Capturing waste energy, if you will, from the production of cows is good. What we do with that energy is the thing that worries me.

    If the carbon from the methane produced from the cow shit is turned into something like buckyballs, or carbon fibres, or WTH, diamonds then I would completely support the effort.

    That the carbon is pumped back into the atmosphere via the production of fuel is the problem here.

    Buckyballs and carbon fibres are economically and industrially valuable materials, just like fuel, so should be just as desirable an end result of recycling cow shit as fuel. These end products have the advantage that they effectively sequester carbon, unlike production of fuel.

    I hope that makes my point more clear... I _am_ given to the rant, I know.

  41. E


    Could we feed those people who pop up at every operating system discussion to say "Why not Ubuntu? It's more friendly" into this system and turn them directly into methane?

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