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There are some 90,000 plus dairy operations located throughout the U.S. Someday, these farms could also be producing fuel to run their trucks and generate electricity to power dairy operations.
The nation’s first “cow-powered” trucks were unveiled earlier this year. These trucks, which normally run on diesel fuel, were modified to run on clean-burning biomethane. Biomethane is a renewable fuel, most commonly produced from organic wastes, in this case cow manure.
Biomethane reduces global warming emissions (methane from manure), air pollution (from diesel emissions) and dependence on fossil fuels without a food-fuel trade-off in land use.
What’s more, biomethane is the only vehicle fuel that is carbon negative. The production process prevents greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere, and the resulting fuel is clean-burning.
The two biomethane trucks were converted by Hilarides Dairy in Lindsay, Calif., a city nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the San Joaquin Valley. The dairy had already been using cow manure-based fuel in generators that supply electricity to the farm. The company made the conversion with the help of a California grant that encourages the use of alternative fuels.
Converting cow manure into biomethane involves proven technologies that trap methane and turn it into clean-burning fuel. At Hilarides Dairy, recycled lagoon water is used to flush manure from the cows’ stalls into a covered lagoon where gravity separates solids from liquids. The manure water is piped to other lagoons where bacteria convert it to biomethane, also known as biogas.
The lagoons are huge, lined holding ponds for managing the waste produced by the cows. The biomethane is captured, processed to remove impurities, compressed into a vehicle fuel and then put into the truck’s fuel tank.
Hilarides Dairy’s fleet is said to be the first in the country to use biomethane produced entirely on the farm. If the nation’s dairy cows were put to use in this way, an estimated one million vehicles could be powered with biomethane.