Mooove over, Big Oil. Cows from Bar 20 Dairy in California are helping fuel more than 17,000 electric vehicles.
Seven thousand cows from Bar 20 Dairy near Fresno are, um, providing manure to the project. The poop goes from “cow houses” into a pipeline and covered lagoon outfitted with a “first-of-its-kind, next generation, climate-smart digester,” the dairy says.
The anaerobic system captures methane gas from the manure that’s converted into renewable electricity via fuel cells. The power is transmitted to the utility grid through a partnership with BMW North America and used to power electric vehicles.
The methane reductions at the farm total more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The cow power also is used to run a feed mixing system at Bar 20, replacing diesel and reducing smog-forming emissions by 90%. Two solar arrays provide electricity for the dairy barn and offset power usage.
The Bar 20 project was one of seven recognized earlier this year by the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, an industry program.
Steve Shehadey, whose family has owned and operated Bar 20 Dairy since 1957, is humble about the award and innovations.
“If we can produce enough energy to minimize our electrical costs and clean the air, that’s kind of a good thing,” Shehadey says.
He notes that digesters aren’t unique in California. A project developer called California Bioenergy has 100-some projects in the works; Bar 20 is one of more than 40 that are operational. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a database of digesters, and notes their growth in use and environmental benefits.
But with the system in place at Bar 20, “we expect to produce more power than we use on the whole dairy,” Shehadey says. The digester started operating there in December 2021. Besides electricity generation, other outputs of the anaerobic digestion process include fertilizer and animal bedding.
The Bar 20 project was made possible through state incentive programs and private investors, as explained by Dairy Cares, an organization of California dairy farmers.
The project totaled about $13 million, according to Shehadey, including a $3 million state grant. The partnership with BMW, to purchase renewable energy credits based on the cow power that’s created, helped make the project viable.
According to Bloom Energy of California, which makes the fuel cells used at Bar 20, biogas from California dairy farms has the potential to generate more than 300 megawatts of power a year, or enough to power 600,000 electric vehicles.
Steve Shehadey encourages other farmers to look into digester technology and find better ways of dealing with “something that comes out of the back of a cow.”
“It’s important to take what you have and try to improve it.”
Autor: Jeff Kart
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