It’s a simple fact of life, energy bills are going to be higher in the winter as people all over the world heat their homes to stay warm. For researchers at Cornell University in chilly Ithaca, New York, this means keeping the heat on six months a year! Now, a team at the school says they have just what they need to make their own renewable energy and reduce their carbon footprint too. Their study finds the answer to their problem is cow manure, and that’s no bull.
Study authors are developing a system which extracts energy from a cow’s droppings, which they say can meet the peak demand for heat during the frigid winter months. So how many cows does it take to heat a 2,300-acre campus? The study finds manure from 619 cows could fully power this process and heat Cornell’s 260-plus buildings.
The university’s dairy farms are already home to 600 cows. Officials there are also working to reduce the school’s carbon footprint by 100 percent by the year 2035. Another project trying to meet the heating demand — by providing heat from water extracted from deep underground — is being called too “economically unattractive” to work. In simple terms, digging for hot water is too expensive.
Researchers working on the cattle project say a three-stage process can convert dung into methane and other renewable products. First, the cow manure is biologically digested with microbes to create biogas — a mix of carbon dioxide and methane.
Next, the digested dung is transformed into a biocrude oil and a substance called hydrochar, which is a good soil additive. Finally, carbon dioxide created by the first step is combined with hydrogen gas to biologically produce renewable natural gas (RNG).