Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Stinky Situation

The problem:
According to the EPA, Methane gas (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the United States after carbon dioxide. However, it’s estimated that the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period. Although some of this CH4 is produced naturally from wetlands etc., almost all of it comes from human activity; livestock, natural gas and landfill decomposition.

What can be done:
One proposal, which has already been proto-typed in Argentina is to capture the methane produced from cattle by fitting them with these “fart-packs” as pictured above. This device captures the methane from their digestive system before it ever reaches the atmosphere. To get a rough idea of how much energy we could get from this practice, one of the technicians working on the project estimated that the 300 liters of methane per day a cow emits can be used to operate a small refrigerator for a full day. Extrapolating from this information, I estimate that it would only take 11 cows to provide energy for a whole household! (See assumptions below). Whether or not this project will turn out to be viable remains unknown, but it certainly shows that there is potential for innovation. You can read more about this fascinating study here http://bigthink.com/design-for-good/this-is-how-you-turn-cow-fart-gas-into-energy, or the original article in Spanish here http://intainforma.inta.gov.ar/?p=19084.

Yet another innovation is the EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, which encourages the recovery and beneficial use of methane from the decomposition process in landfills. This program is a similarly ingenuous idea in which we would be capturing otherwise unused and harmful methane and making practical use of it. Here is a link to their info page http://www3.epa.gov/lmop/.

The bottom line:
Methane is a huge problem and if we don’t do something, it will only lead to further global climate change. There is not one solution, but the conglomeration of ideas such as these, however obscure, will be a healthy start. Barring the unlikely possibility that we would all collectively decide to go vegan and stop waste production, it will take more innovators and explorers with a desire for a sustainable quality of life. The more people who get involved in the solution, the better chance we have of stopping the problem before it becomes serious. You can get involved locally by joining the EPA’s Global Methane Initiative here http://www3.epa.gov/globalmethane/initiative.htm, and signing up for their project network.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com

Methane energy calculation used the following assumptions:
1) A small fridge uses 1000 kWh/yr.
2) A typical household uses 10,932 kWh/yr, (as is according to the U.S. energy information system). 

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