Using Methane Power on a Dairy Farm

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Photo by Adobe Stock/ahavelaar
The waste from dairy cattle can be used to generate all the electricity the operation needs.

Cows may be a critical component of all dairy operations, but for one California farm, they’re also the primary energy supplier. Straus Family Creamery in Marin County, California, transforms cow manure into electricity, turning one of its waste products into renewable energy. At standard dairy operations, cow manure releases methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as it breaks down. Rather than releasing this gas into the atmosphere, dairy owner Albert Straus works to capture it and transform it into a versatile power source. This isn’t a new development for the dairy. With the help of a methane digester, Straus has been generating electricity from manure for over 14 years, and he produces enough to power his entire farm.

Methane digesters such as the one Straus uses aren’t cheap, but they have many benefits for farmers. For starters, they minimize the flies and odors that come from exposed manure, and they reduce fuel needs. Straus estimates that his setup saves 200 to 250 gallons of diesel fuel each month. Recently, he expanded the system to charge his electric truck as well. This means that the energy used to bring feed to the dairy comes from the cows themselves, by way of their manure. With the electric truck, the dairy operates on a closed-loop system where every cow on the property improves its sustainability. Through his example, Straus hopes to prove to the world that dairy farming can be carbon-positive and a viable solution for fighting climate change.