Social Enterprise

Old McDonald turned manure into energy E-I-E-I-O

As I was examining the IT News headlines today, I realized that I have a fascination for things that most people find disgusting. Ok, this isn't the first realization - no bright lights or church choir music ringing in my ears. But what I did come to terms with is that I truly enjoy reading and writing about poop! I skimmed over my previous blog entries and found these telling titles: "How much poop is needed to load Windows?" and "When defecation leads to defamation."

So, yeah, you guessed it... here's another recent News.com story that talks about how we can use poop to save America's energy: "The next energy source: Barnyard animals." A company called Microgy "has discovered that manure and other waste products from cows, pigs, and other livestock is a largely untapped source of energy in the United States... [Microgy] builds industrial-sized 'digesters' that, through heat and microbes, reduce mountains of waste into gas or electricity that can be reused on the farm or sold on the open market."

"At the Five Star Dairy in Elk Mound, Wisc., solid waste processed by a digester is used as cow bedding, which saves the farm $2,000 to $3,000 a month, while the remaining liquids can still be used as fertilizer... Fed by the waste of 900 cows, Five Star's digester cranks out about 6.5 million kilowatt hours a year—enough to power 600 homes annually." 

You may think that I'm completely full of it, but seeing is believing. Check out the photo gallery: Barnyard energy.

There are some obstacles to widespread adoption of this technology, including steep equipment costs. However, if energy prices continue to rise, the technology could certainly become a more viable investment.

Here's a little Sonja trivia for those of you who actually were interested enough in poop to read this entire blog posting. I worked a little over two years at the Stock Yards when I first moved to Louisville, KY in 1990. My job was to herd cattle (on foot and on horseback) into their pens when they came out of the auction ring. They shut the Stock Yards down several years ago, but the history of that place is legendary... including its smell. Almost everyone who I've heard talk about the Stock Yards has mentioned the terrible stench of cow manure that you could catch a whiff off over a mile away on windy days, but I never was offended by the odor. That smell reminds me of being on my grandparent's farm as a kid, and I associate it with good memories. And while there are days at my current job when I still have to work with poop, it's a rose with a completely different name, and it doesn't smell near as sweet. 

About Sonja Thompson

Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.

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