Posting in Energy
Energy hog? Not Google. In return for carbon credits, the company is helping 9,000 pigs cut their farm's methane emissions while they generate electricity.
Pig farms can create big, stinking messes. The animal feces releases greenhouse gases, can pollute rivers, streams and groundwater, and emits ammonia that can sicken pigs living within tightly enclosed spaces.
But Loyd Ray Farms in North Carolina—along with about 160 other pig, dairy and poultry farms across the country—is putting the waste to work by generating clean electricity through anaerobic digestion. For three years, Duke University and Duke Energy have been setting up the $1.2 million pilot system, being tested out by 9,000 hogs. Now Google is taking up some of the university’s operational costs as a way to offset its carbon emissions. (The company unveiled their carbon footprint for the first time last week.)
Jolanka Nickerman of Google’s Carbon Offsets Team writes on the Internet giant’s new green website:
There are lots of different flavors and styles of carbon offsets, so I review each project’s history, documentation and financials to be confident that the project we’re investing in results in greenhouse gas reductions that wouldn’t have happened without our investment. To be sure we’re buying what we think we’re buying, I also visit each site to get my hands dirty—to see the equipment and interview the staff. Finally, a third-party verifier makes sure the project is delivering the reductions claimed.
The reductions claimed equal 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, though they are technically methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times as potent. In a closed circuit, wet manure travels from the pigpen to an anaerobic digester. Here bacteria break it down, producing biogas that is about 54 percent methane. A cover over the lagoon collects the methane, which then runs a micro-turbine. The waste continues on its way an aerobic nitrification basin. The next stop is the storage lagoon. The farm then flushes out the pig barns with the treated water and the process begins anew.
A boon for the farmers (besides electricity produced on site) is cleaner flush water. This makes for healthier (and heavier) pigs. But let’s not forget our veggies. If diluted enough, the water can irrigate food crops. Typically, farmers can spray lagoon water only on fields for hay or other grasses.
Some digester systems also capture waste heat to warm nearby buildings and heat water. In 2010, anaerobic digesters, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, cut methane emissions by 51,000 metric tons of methane (equivalent to 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide) and prevented 264,000 tons of CO2 emission by using methane power instead of fossil fuels.
There are more than 2,400 swine farms in North Carolina. If they all adopt similar projects as Loyd Ray Farms, Duke University estimates that 766,000 megawatt-hours could result. With the nation’s digesters collectively having generated 453,000 megawatt-hours last year, this would bring the state a blue ribbon for livestock power. While the goal is a fat one, their pigs wouldn’t have to fly for it to happen, just poop.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- Human waste now heats British homes
- California laws becoming 'dairy digester' intolerant
- Energy happens: NYC seeks sewage power
Sep 11, 2011
Carbon credits for Methane ? Common sense is long gone these days. First of all CO2 is not a dangerous gas. In order for it to be anywhere close to dangerous you would need to be in the 10,000-20,000 ppm in our atmosphere instead of the 385 it is currently. Google has over a million servers and grouped into quite a few server farms. But they can "off-set" it with carbon credits. It's all an imaginary shell game. Al Gore is planting trees to off-set his bad behavior. Companies do this sort of thing because of PR, trying to look good, and to increase sales. Its all smoke and mirrors. It sure is a feel-good story isn't it ! Soon energy will be pretty darn expensive with all the planned legislation and it will do a great deal of additional damage to our economy and jobs all to help an imiginary crisis. In the end there is no global warming but it is good for Al Gore's and other's pocketbooks. The rest of us will suffer.
I had to laugh at Google's Ms. Nickerman when she said "I also visit each site to get my hands dirty -- to see the equipment and interview the staff." If she's really about getting her hands dirty, I have to wonder if she ever shoveled the stuff. But on a more serious note, this is hardly new technology. At least as far back as the '70s I remember reading about hog farmers who tried this sort of thing as a hobby. It worked, but the energy recovered didn't really pay for itself. This sort of thing only makes economic sense if the farmer can get paid for carbon offsets. If it made sense otherwise, these large hog farms would have already have done it long ago.
Klassman6 and hoodedswan both made great points. Yes, cost and efficiency are the big drivers in the factory farm system. No question that it costs more to raise significant quantities of food animals via free ranging. Cheap pork, beef and poultry is what gave impetus to the fast food (junk food) industry. McDonalds, KFC, et all could not stay in business without the government subsidized, corn subsidized factory farms. The price of fast food burgers and chicken nuggets would probably double or triple. What's the trade off? Good question...the answer is that animals allowed to eat their natural food (grass, forage, seeds, bugs, etc) don't create as much methane as the factory fed animals. The environment is much cleaner since the waste is dispersed over a wide area where insects can break it down naturally. If chicken or turkeys graze in the same pasture as cattle, the birds will eat the fly larva and other insects attracted to the cow pies. Good for the pigs and cows, good for the poultry, good for the environment and good for us. The trade off in cost is enormous. The higher price of organically raised meat will be offset many times over by much lower national heatlh costs; fewer sick days, higher productivity, less obesity, less diabetes, less cardiovascular problems. Taxpayers would save millions, no billions over a period of years, by stopping corn subsidiies that allow our food stocks to go into our gas tanks and into the stomachs of confined animals, an unnatural diet that contributes to more greenhouse gases. Antibiotic resistance would be less of a concern; as an aside, go see the new movie "Contagion". It's fiction, but animal scientists say it is closer to reality than anyone thinks and in the movie the outbreak started in a pig factory farm. Another side benefit would be that corn and soy farmers might be able to get away from using Monsanto's genetically engineered seed. All it does is allow more poison to be sprayed on the crops; is now creating superweeds that not even Roundup can kill; and introduces foreign proteins into our food that may, just may, be a root cause of the rise in allergies, asthma, huge rise in health issues with the colon and GI tract and maybe autism...we still don't know why that started rising so fast several years ago but it seems to coincide with the introduction of genetically engineered crops. Our internal systems have not evolved enough to handle these new proteins created by altered plant DNA. All these issues are the result of my rambling thoughts and need to be researched in depth by objective scientists. Thank you hoodedswan and Klassman6 for your comments.
...literally and figurtively. And if you have ever been around an anaerobic methane digester, they aren't exactly perfume, either. By pulling off the methane (which is actually odorless), you still have plenty of stink to go around in the effluent, since anaerobic digestion seems to bring out the worst in that arena. It's sad what has happened to small hog operations across the country, with the economics pushing them out in favor the the large hog confinement operations, typically run by corporations. I don't know what will be able to turn around the trend, with really big money being made in this arrangement. Of course, eliminating subsidies would be a good start.... I know that methane digesters can be scaled for small operations as well; until the rest of the economic equation can be changed to stop favoring the CAFO method of hog production, tho, there's very little point since all of the small time operators are being pushed out anyway.
How much does it cost to raise livestock on free range vs the cost to raise on factory farms? The corps wouldn't have factory farms to begin with unless they were convinced they were more profitable. While 1 could see how raising livestock on free ranges would reduce if not eliminate waste disposal and associated (groundwater contamination) problems, isn't decomposition the same either way? Isn't methane created in the same quantities, whether it's concentrated in 1 place or spread out over a large area?
Score +1 for greenhouse gas emissions; score -1 for the pigs. I would rather see the whole concentrated (captive) animal feeding operation (CAFO) method of pork, beef and poultry production done away with. If we could get back to smaller, sustainable animal farming, we wouldn't need to worry about excess greenhouse gases from hogs and chickens. Waste from free ranging livestock, rotated from pasture to pasture, takes care of itself and renews the nutrients in the land. Now the animal factories will be just that much more enabled to continue pumping growth hormones into their stock, filling them full of antibiotics so they don't all die in their confinement pens and practicing their genetic engineering experiments to eliminate animal stress caused by the confinement system. Now instead of just spraying the gunk on hay and alfalfa field for animal feed, they can spray it on our food crops so we can ingest the residual antibiotics and growth hormones. Could the system be contributing to our obesity epidemic? If seems that if hogs are given growth hormones to make them fatter, the hormones will end up in their tissue (pork) and eventually make us look just like the artificially fatted hogs, along with the accompanying diabetes and cardiovascular issues. I think big pharma and big pig are in cahoots. Drug companies sell tons more antibiotics to factory farms than they do for human use, then those same companies can sell more drugs to treat the illnesses that the systems creates. Proponents say that without the CAFO system, the world would starve. Hogwash, pun intended. Instead of trying to feed the world and make Smithfield, Tysons, Pilgrims Pride, Cargill and Monsanto rich, how about creating smaller, more natural faming systems that would allow each community to feed itself? Did you see today's news article about Cargill's recall of 185,000 pounds of ground turkey...and that's after its recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey in August? Turns out it was contaminated with an antibiotic resistant strain of salmonella. How many dead turkeys does it take to make over 36 million pounds of ground meat that will now be destroyed? I would be more impressed if Google directed its vast techological expertise to replacing this deadly, cruel, wasteful animal factory system. Check out www.factory-farming.com/pig_manure.html or www.factory-farming.com/pig_farms.html or www.factory-farming.com/antibiotic_resistance.html for a look at what is going on.
it was a fun diversion, but you're right: give a financial incentive to capture the methane and the hog farms will do it if it helps them with the bottom line. Ideally, it should be an incentive for the large CAFOs AND the dwindling numbers of smaller operations, too. Hopefully that's what will develop.
Land in general is simply too expensive to give each hog acres. In most places you can't feed a lot of hogs per acre off of what grows naturally there, especially year round. Hogs in the wild eat just about anything (they're omnivores). They also roam over great distances. So even if you pasture hogs you wind up having to grow feed for them somewhere. There are also labor issues. Hogs require a great deal of handling. They can run a lot faster than humans. On a large pasture hogs will inevitably find corners and hallows to hide in. When they're spread out over a great deal of land it's nearly impossible to handle them. They don't herd nearly as well as cattle and they're a lot more maneuverable. What it comes down to is that it takes 60 million hogs to meet demand in the US. If they were to roam free that's far beyond what the land today can support. As a comparison, at their height it's thought there were about 60 to 100 million bison roaming the midwest plains before they were all killed off. We can't afford that much land today to let hogs roam free.
Some background: My family had a 4000 hog farm back in the '60s thru '80s which I worked on growing up. It was not a modern confinement operation, the hogs were in pens but always free to move around and had enough room to run short distances if they wanted to. I have to say I'm not totally happy with modern confinement operations, but I'm not rabid about them either. First, to pasture pigs so their manure could spread out normally would require too much land. There are about 60 million pigs in the US, or roughly 1/5 the human population. We have to have elaborate systems to collect human waste because we don't have acres of land per human. It's the same with hogs. Modern hog confinement systems systems are designed to keep the manure and urine away from the hogs so they never come in contact with it. That's better than in their natural environment. Second, I have never heard of hog farms using growth hormone. We certainly never used it. Hogs go from a 2 or 3 lb. piglet at birth to 230 lbs. in about 6 months all on their own. It's their natural growth rate when given all the feed they can eat. I don't think growth hormone would make that process happen any faster. Growth hormones are used in milk cows and (I think) poultry; fight your battles there. Third, we don't pump hogs full of antibiotics. They are given a low dose in their feed to control abscesses, but it's not even enough to stop diseases if they do occur. Even in modern confinement operations they don't need to be pumped full of antibiotics to keep them from dying. The only time antibiotics are given to the hogs in large amounts is when they get sick. It's done via individual shots, so the other hogs are not affected. All antibiotics (including in the feed) is withdrawn weeks before the hogs are slaughtered so no antibiotics remain in the meat sold to humans. It's a federal law, and tests are done at packing houses by government inspectors. Violate that law even in the slightest and you find yourself without a place to ship your hogs. In most places in the US you will get far more antibiotics from drinking tap water which contains antibiotics excreted by humans and then recycled. You should read up on how our drinking water is obtained and processed some time. I have no idea what "genetic experiments" you are talking about. You think hog farmers are mad scientists??? The idea of local farms everywhere raising hogs is ridiculous. In the first place, most places in the US can't grow grain crops to support hogs. It takes a lot of water, both to grow crops and provide water for the hogs to drink and cool off. Hogs can't survive very well in extremely hot climates (that old saw "sweating like a pig" is a myth, hogs have no sweat glands). Neither can hogs survive very well in places with harsh winters without heated shelters. And NOBODY wants a hog farm in their back yard. Hog farms of any reasonable size all smell no matter how the manure is treated and they all attract flies. These local farms you advocate are a silly notion. Huge metro areas such as LA or New York where most people live would require hundreds of these small farms located somewhere nearby where land is extremely expensive. They would also presumably send their hogs to local slaughtering houses. If you think the bacteria contamination problem would be any less there, then you're mistaken. In fact, the regulations for small slaughtering houses are less stringent than they are for big ones.