No Gas Shortage Here!

Power from the poopers.

In yet another triumph of American ingenuity, the California utility company PG&E has begun generating electricity from... cow manure.

This is not as nutty an idea as it may first appear.  Decomposing cow manure - or any decomposing feces, for that matter - produce methane.  Lest we forget, methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  In fact, cow belches (never mind what comes out the other end) have more global-warming effect per cow per day than the average Land Rover.  Seeking a solution at the dairy farm is not a bad idea.

What's more, methane is the primary component in natural gas, generally considered to be a relatively clean source of energy.  Not only does this procedure offer a way to get rid of the excrement, which has caused problems elsewhere, it's also a means of replacing wasteful petroleum-burning power plants with clean gas-burning ones, freeing up petroleum for use in cars instead.

This was probably not what the environmentalists had in mind.  But, as Adam Smith could have told them, when prices go up, you'll find bright ideas coming out of the most unlikely places.  Burning manure-methane for electricity has worked on a small scale in India and China.  Why not in the United States?

From the "output" of 5,000 cows, this California system is expected to generate enough electricity for 1,200 homes, that's about 5 cows per home.  The USDA reports that there were almost 100,000,000 head of American cattle in 2002, enough to light up 20,000,000 homes.

While it may not be practical for all of those cows to make a deposit into our electrical grid, there's ample scope for growth.  And the estimated amount of electric cow manure does not include other excretory animals such as horses, pigs, chickens, and so on right up to people.  Chemically speaking, it's all the same crap.

In other news, New York City has a sewage disposal problem.  Is there possibly a profit opportunity for an intrepid entrepreneur?  Perhaps the promised reductions in greenhouse gases might help overcome some of the objections to Con Ed generating more electricity near Manhattan.

You might almost say that we smell money here; the British have a saying, "Where there's muck, there's brass."

Let's hope that the environmental activists will take "yes" for an answer, and welcome an actual solution to a problem.  Isn't that better than just complaining?

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
I've never before been temped to say "What a crappy article!" in such a complimentary way.
Fantastic! I love it.
March 6, 2008 12:34 PM
Oh, blow it out your....!! (But first make sure you are wearing the all new Ass-Gas-Collector 2000!)
March 6, 2008 1:29 PM
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