Environment Health

Argentina’s “Methane Backpacks” Turn Cow Farts into Green Energy

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Cows farts, albeit stinky, are rich in methane gas, a greenhouse gas and a fuel source. Trapping those cow farts though is like trying to catch a wave upon the sand, but now researchers in Argentina are tapping into this un-utilized potential and capturing the gas with methane collecting backpacks. A tube stuck right into the cow’s rumen collects the gases and stores them in an inflatable sack on their back. Later the methane is purified and compressed so it can be used to generate electricity, run a refrigerator, cook or even run a car, all while keeping the methane out of the atmosphere. While the concept still needs more testing and development, as well as a serious look at the ethics, this is the beginning of Cowpower, the newest form of renewable energy.

Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency it accounts for 9% of all greenhouse gases in the US, with the Agriculture Industry and raising livestock being the primary culprit. Cows fart a lot and because we raise them and eat them, we’re responsible for those emissions. Up until now, accounting for these emissions has been a lost cause, because you can’t really stop a cow from farting and releasing greenhouse gases. Since methane is a useful and burnable gas, technically, we’re also just letting a good, valuable fuel just waft into the air.

Argentina, which is big on beef, decided to look into the problem, so researchers at the INTA set about to capture that gas. The team developed a methane collecting backpack consisting of an inflatable bag set on their back and a tube stuck into the cow’s rumen. The tubes were inserted through a small puncture in their side and received local anesthesia for the procedure. As the cow eats and digests grasses, gases are created, which move through the tube into the bag. After enough is collected, the researchers take the bag, extract, purify and compress the methane for use to generate power, electricity, heat and much more.

The concept proved to be viable. “A cow emits about 300 liters of methane per day, which can be used to operate a fridge capacity of 100 liters at a temperature of between two and six degrees for a full day,” said Ricardo Bualo, a technician involved with the project. The question for the team now is how to expand the concept into a working model for a large farm. We’ve got some big questions about how all this is done and how it might affect the cow, but ethics aside, collecting the gas could lead to a big renewable energy source and help reduce greenhouse gases in a major way. What do you think – should we exploit cows for their methane-rich farts?

*See images here http://intainforma.inta.gov.ar/?cat=33

Learn more here http://intainforma.inta.gov.ar/?p=19084

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“Argentina’s “Methane Backpacks” Turn Cow Farts into Green Energy”