Opinion: New methane-related technology could be an asset
Recent developments in renewable energy have come to my immediate vicinity, both solar and bio-methane. A look at these two forms, one producing energy only during daylight hours and the other continuous energy 24 hours, yielded for me the following insight: If solar energy, which can only be stored by expensive batteries could be supplemented more directly by methane physically stored to be used to power a generator during morning and evening “peak” hours, the two could combine to greatest effect.
Keep in mind that small-scale 24-hour energy production has little impact on the grid as off-peak overnight power is not needed. A maximum of only nine hours’ gas storage would be required to regulate the flow and could be made feasible if a rate schedule for this valuable peak hours electricity, such as the “new metering” rule for solar, were in place for methane. This policy would be the province of the Vermont Public Service Board.
Converting cow manure to methane to be burned for energy would release carbon dioxide, which is taken in by the grass grown for feed, a seemingly closed system. However, methane production is now only feasible for large 1,000-cow farms, which rely on large-scale fossil-fuel equipment to mechanically harvest grass to feed cows confined to the barn.
I have initiated research at the Vermont Technical College Dairy Science Department to develop a model for a 50-cow farm utilizing a pasture system and an automated “robot” milker, saving fossil fuel and tedious labor, plus numerous other benefits. While no manure would be collected from pasture, the winter production would be very high value during short daylight solar power months.
An effort to develop storable methane production from smaller units of animal agriculture could have a great many beneficial returns. In Middlebury, a three-mile, four-inch PVC pipeline (fossil fuel-based) buried by excavators (fossil fuel) is proposed to supply the college with 24-hour combustion. Surely storage at the source to generate electricity, possibly with compression by overnight off-peak hydroelectricity, would be cost-effective.
This scenario promotes the rural society, nearly decimated by large farms and agribusiness, and enhances renewable energy production with best utilization. All that remains is to do the math.
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