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Iowa farmer produces clean energy with cow manure

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A Scott County farmer is finding a new cash cow these days. That's because his 2,400-strong herd is producing clean energy.

Turns out, there's money in manure.

At this Stockton, Iowa, farm, the motto could be, "Waste not, want not."

"I like that idea," said Bryan Sievers, part of a sixth generation farming family. "Yes, I think that's a great theme."

Each cow eats 40 pounds of feed daily. And what goes in, must come out.

"The more they eat, the more energy we produce," he said.

Sievers looks at manure and sees green energy. That's why he invested $7 million to convert cow pies into clean power for Alliant Energy.

"There's nothing that goes to waste on a farm like this," he said.

It's only one of three set-ups in Iowa. Waste collects through a slotted floor. It transfers to something called a digester. It's kind of like a bovine brewery.

There's a method to this manure. These cows can produce enough energy to power 1,000 homes.

Waste travels through a network of pipes and tanks. That's where it becomes methane gas.

"We all want cleaner air, cleaner water," said Doug Kopp, president of Interstate Power and Light. "We have to work at that."

The generator area looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. They started making clean energy in September 2013. It's enough to power the farm and sell back to the grid.

From the cow power, Sievers gets a monthly check for about $24,000 from Alliant Energy.

"If you stretch yourself with what you want to achieve, with your farm operation you can probably do more than you might think," he said.

Potential in poo, you bet. Sievers says that it's just the start.

"By reducing that carbon footprint that we leave behind, I think, is important to us and our family," he concluded.

Now that's some cow conversion.


  • Griff in Fairbanks

    This is not new, just overlooked by most energy companies. I wrote a paper on this in the early 70s, including information on a farmer that had been doing this since the early 60s.

    For those who don’t know, methane (CH4) is the main component in natural gas. The byproduct of the conversion process is a sterile high-grade fertilizer.

    Every municipal sewage treatment plant could be convert to capture and use the methane, instead of venting it into the atmosphere where it magnifies the hothouse gas problem.

  • bikergal

    We could end our dependency on fossil fuels with all the natural gas we could get from the manure our DC politicians spread.

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