20 October 2009

Manure mountains manufacture methane, make mess a memory

Greeley, Colorado is a center of cattle feeding and processing. JBS, the successor of the Swift meatpacking business, is a major force in town, and has decided that there's money in those mounds of manure. Like large dairy operations, they can make natural gas from that waste. (Associated Press did a recent story, which you can read here at the Boston Globe. Mr. Swift, who created the meatpacking empire, came from Cape Cod.)

By optimizing the production of methane and capturing it (instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere where it is a potent greenhouse gas) waste disposal problems are reduced, heat is generated for commercial purposes, and tradable carbon credits can be captured.

Heat is usually generated by breakdown of manure by microbes, as anyone who has put his or her hand into a steaming pile of manure can attest. The inside of a pile of manure will typically reach 140℉ or more. This is not the heat that the methane could produce by being burned (although manure fires are a real problem). This heat comes from the action of anaerobic microbes in the pile and some of the most important ones for methane production like higher temperatures. The trick for commercialization is to capture the methane they generate rather than letting it escape or be broken down by other organisms as would happen in manure composting. More about manure to methane here.

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