Studies have estimated that converting manure from the 95 million animal units in the United States would produce renewable energy equal to 8 billion gallons of gasoline, or 1% of the total energy consumption in the nation.
In a new case study published in the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers at the University of Vermont and the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation (CVPS) confirm that it is technically feasible to convert cow manure to electricity on farms, but the economic returns depend highly on a number of factors:
Base electricity price
Premium paid for converted energy
Financial supports from government and other agencies
Ability to sell byproducts of the methane generation
The CVPS Cow Power program provides assistance to farms, planning and installing anaerobic digesters and generators to convert cow manure into electricity. The resulting power is then marketed to customers.
Scenario analysis from the case study suggests that small changes in the premium price can have a significant impact on the cash flow of an average operation.
Waste heat from biogas combustion can be captured and utilized on the farm and byproducts from the digester, in the form of animal bedding and compost, contribute significantly to cash flow of farms – up to 26% of the total revenue.
To make this sort of renewable energy viable, you’ll need to have the full package working for you. Dr. Qingbin Wang, a professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont, weighs in on the feasibility, “For any community interested in a locally sourced renewable energy project like the CVPS Cow Power Program, the strong commitment and collaboration of utilities, dairy farmers, electric customers, and government agencies at the state and local level is essential.”