The recent gas crisis has pushed up global wholesale prices. Since January alone, prices have risen 250 percent, raising concerns and questions about the cost and source of future shipments. This has highlighted the need to find additional energy sources that are both sustainable and reliable.
A group of farmers from the Arla dairy cooperative are now showing the largely untapped potential of waste by converting cow manure into cow power to run their farms. To demonstrate the possibilities this offers all of us, Arla has created AA rechargeable ‘ Cow patterns’ that could be part of the UK’s renewable energy solution.
Renewable energy sources have historically been focused on wind and solar power, but to make effective use of all available resources, the expansion of anaerobic digestion plants across the UK could offer new opportunities for household power and transportation across the country. Cow manure is consistent and reliable and has the potential to play a very real role in how we collectively meet our net zero goals by turning them into a source of green gas.
The process also has the added benefit of creating a by-product that can be used as natural fertilizer, allowing farmers to enrich the land and close the loop on their farm. With over 1.2 million tonnes of cow manure provided each year from Arla’s 2,240 farms in the UK alone, the farmer-owned cooperative could generate enough green energy to power four percent of UK households.
Arla farmer Neil Ridgway said, “There is so much potential for innovation like anaerobic digestion to help meet UK renewable energy needs while reducing farm emissions – with something readily available on our farms – poo . On my farm we already use the energy obtained from cow manure to supply all of our goods, but that could go much further. We can even use the by-product of the process as natural fertilizer on our land and thus close the loop – a win-win situation. “
Anaerobic digestion is the process by which cow manure is converted into energy. Organic substances such as animal waste are broken down into biogas and organic fertilizers. This process takes place in the absence of oxygen in a sealed, oxygen-free tank called an anaerobic fermenter. The end product is biogas. After cleaning, the biogas is fed into a combined heat and power unit (BHKW), where it is used to generate renewable energy. The end product is a nutrient-rich, low-emission natural fertilizer that can be returned to the land to nourish the soil.
Graham Wilkinson, Arla’s Group Agriculture Director, said: “Arla is committed to sustainable agriculture and reducing emissions from food production. Our farmers are constantly looking for innovative solutions, and after our manure-driven transport attempts last year, it is clear that we have only just scratched the surface. Around 460,000 cows live on Arla’s farms, providing a constant source of manure – in other words, manure that can be converted into electricity that has the potential to make a significant contribution to the UK’s renewable energy quota. A small number of our farmer owners are already converting cow manure into energy. If the government and the energy industry could see the potential, the increase in cow performance could fundamentally transform the UK’s renewable energy supply while also helping to reduce emissions in agriculture. “
Neil Ridgway said, “My farm already produces enough electricity from cow dung to keep the lights on in my company and the local community, and is helping us on our way to becoming carbon neutral. I would love to buy cow pies in the future as they really highlight the potential of this natural resource! With the right support and infrastructure, we might be able to make this a reality. “