Don’t poop on the idea of manure as fuel, Part 2

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If you missed Tuesday’s blog, it was a look at a University of Michigan Water Center study that found not enough is being done to curtail massive farm runoff, specifically phosphorus, which is known to be the overwhelming cause of widespread algae blooms in many of the nation’s lakes and waterways.

On all of these farm fields, large amounts of phosphorus-loaded poop (aka livestock manure) along with other artificial fertilizers are widely spread. The runoff flows right into adjacent creeks, rivers and lakes producing smelly green algae, hardly conducive to enjoyable boating, fishing, wakeboarding, swimming and the like.

But livestock waste can actually do more than ruin our waterways. A good example comes from Duke Energy, the country’s largest electric company. Duke recently announced it will expand its use of renewable energy by adding the power of poop to its energy arsenal.

Channeling livestock manure into making electricity, rather than spreading it on farm fields, gives credence to the belief that a lot more can be done to eliminate phosphorus from farmland and the resulting toxic algae blooms. Moreover, poop power could even be profitable for the farmer, too.

The plan Duke has outlined uses Carbon Cycle Energy of Boulder, Col., to collect mostly chicken and pig poop, in this case. When the methane gas is refined in a North Carolina plant, it’s expected to generate enough power for 10,000 homes. The state’s 2,000 swine operations are expected to be a prime source. Currently, these farmers collect this liquefied waste in cesspools and spray it on crop fields.

Essentially, Carbon Cycle Energy plans to capture the methane near where the livestock produce it and truck or pipe the gas to a central refinery to convert it into fuel usable in some of Duke’s power plants. According to Duke executive vice president Thomas Mulholland, they’ll be putting waste to good use while reducing smell and other negative environmental impacts.

In terms of negative environmental impacts, there might be none greater than the steadily increasing algae bloom problems on our waterways. It makes no difference if its pig poop or cow plops. The spreading of manure on fields needs an immediate major reduction. Moreover, if the technology exists to convert poop into electricity, the huge subsidies currently going into solar arrays and spinning windmill turbines should also be directed to building needed poop refineries.

Sadly, Lake Erie has become the icon for the nation’s algae bloom problems. Between 2008 and 2015, some 146 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) within the western Lake Erie watershed (covers portions of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio) have received more than $16.8 million in direct payments, cost shares and other subsidies from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. These CAFOs house a collective 12 million animals that produce more than 630 million gallons of waste annually.

With that much manure, accepting the fact that spills and leaching from retention ponds, and especially farm runoffs into waterways after spraying on crop fields as fertilizer, is a no brainer.

So, one must ask, why federal and state agencies aren’t putting major subsidies behind plans like that of Duke Energy, but on a much larger scale. Certainly the dots are now connected — runoff from agriculture and CAFOs is killing our waterways.

CAFO owners, and those who should be actively regulating them, want us to believe their claim that everything is being done to protect our lakes and waterways. It’s really apparent that’s simply not true. There is a lot more that can and should be done now, from mandating changes in farming practices to building poop-refining facilities. And boating interests should be calling for action on state and federal levels.


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