back to article Poop to save planet as boffins devise bullsh*t way of extracting gas

Despite emissions from intensive animal husbandry often being fingered as a cause of climate change, researchers have suggested a new way that manure could be a source of renewable power. A team at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, is studying ways of extracting natural gas from bovine and porcine excretions. …

  1. Chris G

    It may help to save the planet but how competitive a price will it be?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      It may help to save the planet but how competitive a price will it be?

      Depends where. There are places where it is the difference from being able to operate or not. Holland for example is exceeding by 40% the rate at which it can get rid of manure legally. Also, what works for cows and pigs may probably work for humans. As a result the ungodly amount of poop cities like New York and London produce today only to go into landfill (that is where the solids from the sewerage works go to at present) may end up being processed usefully.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Lots of methanation processes are already in practice and, a bit like biofuels, they sort of rely on subsidies to turn the hydrocarbons used to make fertilisers into hydrocarbons for fuel. This is financially not sustainable on a large scale but can make sense in some situations.

      Speaking as a bit of a hippy: we really do need to clamp down on some of the subsidies for renewables which are having lots of unintended consequences such as pricing food farmers out of business.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bet Trump can get behind this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh, if only...

  3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    the future is here

    ah, the Mad Max solution

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: the future is here

      Welcome to Bartertown, little man...

      Beat me to it, damn!

      Icon speaks for itself ;-}

    2. vir

      Re: the future is here

      Can we get Tina Turner back on as a spokes-entity?

  4. LucreLout

    Ok, but...

    ...what will they use as a replacement fertilizer and what is the impact of creating such and transporting it to the end user farm? Presumably the cows are on-site such that the muck requires little transit prior to spreading.

    1. Pen-y-gors

      Re: Ok, but...

      Good point. But will all the 'solid matter' be converted into biogas? Presumably there will still be a solid residue containing Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous etc which will be a great fertiliser (and probably smell better than the slurry the farmer next door has just been spreading)

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Ok, but...

      Economics already dictate that artificial fertiliser made from oil — oh the irony! — is cheaper than recycling shit, which is why countries like the The Netherlands and Germany are busy poisoning their water table with nitrates from the run-off. And if you think NOx is bad in the air, just wait till it gets in the drinking water!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ok, but...

      They can buy in manufactured fertilizer than has cost energy to produce and transport therefore further sustaining the economic cycle by creating a market for the energy the poo produces. The capitalist dream, someone will get rich... my money isn't on the poor farmers or cheaper electric bills for the many.... :D

    4. mr.K

      Re: Ok, but...

      You still get all the fertilizer here. During the digestive process the body breaks up the food and extracts nutrients. A lot of energy rich molecules can't be broken down in the digestive process and is sent down to the large intestines. There bacteria that are able to break down and feed of the left overs thrive. In return they break out vitamins etc that is extracted by the body. Crucial when it leaves the cow, in this instance, there is still a lot of fibres left that are continued to be broken down in a process that produces a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane. If you collect the manure in tanks, collect the gas produced and then use it as fertilizer makes no difference than if use it as fertilizer straight away and gas will be released straight into the air instead.

      I don't know if I quite see the big breakthrough here though. Basically what they are doing is collecting the carbon dioxide in the biogas, enriching it with hydrogen and producing methane. A well known process I would think. And it requires an energy input so where is the benefit?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crap Digesters

    have been around for quite a while.

    For example...

    Most of the Methane generated by our Bovine friends actually comes out of their front ends and not the rear. (as seen on Countryfile last sunday)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Crap Digesters

      "Most of the Methane generated by our Bovine friends actually comes out of their front ends and not the rear."

      This digesters like this aren't dealing with the bovine gaseous products. They deal with the solids. Well, semi-solids.

    2. Pen-y-gors

      Re: Crap Digesters

      So you just fit the cows with a reverse gas mask that traps the burps and routes them into a giant gas-bag on the cow's back. Then it can be added to the biogas process.

      And the gas mask should be easy, as CH4 is lighter than air, so the cows can wear a giant bubble helmet, open at the bottom (so they can graze), but the methane will just float to the top of the helmet for extraction.

      Boy, the brain is cooking on gas today! Now, where's that pad of blank patent application forms?

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Crap Digesters

        So you just fit the cows with a reverse gas mask

        One suggestion is to cut holes into their stomachs and collect the stuff directly…

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Crap Digesters

          One suggestion is to cut holes into their stomachs and collect the stuff directly

          That would also decrease their risk of suffering an agonising death from clover bloat.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Crap Digesters

        As an interim solution you could just install a pilot light, or maybe two...

      3. Natalie Gritpants

        Re: Crap Digesters

        And everyone is happy until they start to see flying pigs.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Crap Digesters

      "as seen on Countryfile last sunday"

      ...and from the PM on any PM's question time...

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I thought those digesters produced methane directly? What's this one producing? Ethylene?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Taking a look at what they're doing, I see that the "anaerobic" digester produces carbon dioxide as well as methane. So, using energy from ??? they convert it to methane which can then be burnt to produce energy (and, incidentally, get the carbon dioxide back). It's the Underpant Gnomes' version of the perpetual motion machine.

      1. Pen-y-gors

        It's the Underpant Gnomes' version of the perpetual motion machine.

        Not quite - it's not a closed system, so it's not perpetual motion. The sun adds energy to the system, so it's not impossible.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "Not quite - it's not a closed system, so it's not perpetual motion. The sun adds energy to the system, so it's not impossible."

          The sun adds the initial energy. But on this scheme, having burnt the methane (including the methane produced as such by the digester) they have CO2. And as this is essentially a system for using CO2 and hydrogen (from ???) and more energy (from ???) the only limit to repeating this indefinitely is ??? As I said, the Underpant Gnomes version of perpetual motion, powered by ???

  7. Dwarf

    Yet another plan that is based on nothing but hot air

  8. Nimby

    Crap News?

    I could have sworn I have read papers on this being done already, years and years ago. Is any part of this story actually new or novel?

    1. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Crap News?

      Indeed, lots of pig farms produce their own energy like that using diesel engines turning generators. In some countries they are payed if adding to the grid. Could it be that the news here is that the gas is bottled or something. Anybody tried with a match down there, (no I haven't)

    2. Mark 85

      Re: Crap News?

      The only thing new and novel is that the Uni is seeking publicity and the attention of the greens. Some other group (uni or greens) will also have they're news release and the cycle will continue.

    3. Peter Stone

      Re: Crap News?

      In the late 60s I worked for a firm that produced electomechanical automatic voltage regulators, amongst other things. Within nine months the role of service engineer was thrust on me. One place I went to regularly, was the sewage farm at Kingston upon Thames, along with others up Cheshire way. these produced thier own electricity using usually four alternator sets. These were powered by the gas produced from the plant. The engines driving the alternators were ex submarine engines. The starting procedure was to first start turning the engine over using compressed air, the diesel fuel was used to get the engine running up to speed, usually no more than two-three minutes, then it was switched over to gas which ran the set until it was stopped.

      At the time I was doing this I thought about using a similar setup to produce electricity for use by the country, but was told at the time, it wasn't viable. But I've aways thought it would be a viable form of electricity generation, in these times.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Crap News?

      "Is any part of this story actually new or novel?"

      Using the CO2 which is also included in the biog as by addition of hydrogen (produced using some energy source), a catalyst and some more energy to get methane that can be burned to produce energy and CO2.

  9. GrumpenKraut

    the potential energy of manure

    Fun fact: the maximum of the potential energy of manure is observed when cows shit on top of Mount Everest.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: the potential energy of manure

      Pfft. Launch them into orbit and open the pod bay doors.

      Hell, if you really want to maximise the gravitational potential energy of manure, send the cows into space just short of infinity away.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Daft question....

    ...why not use the burning of the methane to produce electricity to help the process? That way you could have a lot smaller wind turbine / solar panel (or fill in where there isn't any source available)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The electricity part is kinda new

    The reality is that people have been turning manure and water into biogas (methane and CO2) for decades.

    The problem is that there's enough CO2 coming out with it that some engines won't run on the stuff. Some do, but they tend to be lower power-density.

    If you want to be able to replace geologic natural gas (you know, stuff which comes out of the ground) with biogas, you need to find some way to reduce the CO2 content.

    What this process does differently is use hydrogen and energy to turn much of the CO2 into methane as well; this is known as the Sabatier process. This reduces the CO2 content and improves the methane content, with the result being interchangeable with geologic natural gas. Because there's already a significant methane content, you're getting more energy out (existing methane + Sabatier-generated methane) vs energy in (running the Sabatier process).

    Show me a good, cheap way to remove the CO2 and do something useful with it and you won't need this. That's been the rub; separating CO2 from other gaseous mixtures is not easy or cheap.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Stevie

        Re: You need a scrubber.

        Thank you Symon.

        Boiling hot tea sinus rinse.

        Your work here is done.

    2. Chemical Bob

      Re: The electricity part is kinda new

      "What this process does differently is use hydrogen..."

      Where does the hydrogen come from? And how much does it cost to separate the hydrogen from whatever it is attached to?

  12. Ima Ballsy

    Really ?

    Something smells here .....

  13. Nick Kew

    Elephant in the room?

    Other things being equal (i.e. government funding for hot air), surely the Big Win would be not some variant on anaerobic digestion for farm waste, but a way to harness the human variety. Bonus points for including man's best friend in the scheme.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Nick Kew

        Re: Elephant in the room?

        Sadly, there are a few minor drawbacks.

        I expect that'll be why they use anaerobic digestion rather than burning for the farm waste.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    Was that really necessary?

  15. Stevie


    "New way"?


    I saw a design for a methane digestor in either the Domebook, the Whole Earth Catalog 1976 or An Index of Possibilities: Energy and Power back when I were a student at the University of East Climategate.

    "New way" my pig's arse!

    Now get that cow off my lawn!

    Horsewhipping too good for 'em fought on the beaches in my day a good thrashing etc more etc.

  16. Whoisthis


    It has to be a professor from WaterLOO.

    2 weeks to April's fool.

  17. ecofeco Silver badge

    This is new?

    Methane reactor tanks for powering generators is nothing new.

  18. Tim Seventh


    Get your shit together. We're going to save the world.

  19. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    The team are positively giddy with excitement.

    "I'm quite dizzy with anticipation... Or is it the wind? Hey! There really is a lot of that now, isn't there?"

    I'm also put in mind of the line from the radio series of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, on the subject of cows\MCD's beef with the increase of flatulence & methane "that it's colourless... Just as well really!".

    Not to mention the exploding cow on "All Creatures Great & Small", I'll stick with the icon I originally chose, as the "coat" icon suddenly is looking suddenly & suspiciously like Christopher Timothy approaching a cow's bottom with a well soaped arm.

  20. Peter Christy

    This article dates from 1971 - and Harold Bate had been running his car for some time then!

    A few years back, when petrol prices were getting close to £1.50 a litre, I deliberately bought an old carburetor car with building one of these in mind! The price of fuel collapsed before I got round to it, but I still have (and use) the car - just in case!



  21. Phukov Andigh Bronze badge

    farmers been doing this for years

    if you see what looks like a black inflatable greenhousy bag over a large concrete rectangle, you're seeing a farmer that's capturing methane to run generators to power his stuff.

    been a thing for years. Y'all city slickers need ta get out more, I reckon! *spit* *chews on straw*

    1. Lars Silver badge

      Re: farmers been doing this for years

      While this thread is getting a bit old, perhaps we should also remember that while it's so fun, and we seem to do it all the time, that is, the "it was known years ago, and my grandfather did it too" there is a new generation of kids who don't know it.

      Certainly is would be wrong to suddenly stop talking about things we already have seen and done before because we are afraid of somebody pointing out "it's old news".

      As funny as it sounds, education is really all about old news, enabling us to make more old news.

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