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Cows are seen in the holding pen in the milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana, Nov. 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Jim Young) Cows are seen in the holding pen in the milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana, Nov. 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Jim Young)  

Scientists Develop Backpacks To Turn Cow Farts Into Green Energy

For years scientists have been pondered ways to capture methane emissions created by cow flatulence. Now, they may finally have an answer: fart-capturing backpacks for cows.

Argentinian government scientists have developed a backpack for cows that traps methane and turns it into green energy, reports Springwise.com. Researchers with Argentina’s INTA say that methane can be collected by installing a cannula tube into a cow’s digestive tract, running from the animal’s abdomen into an inflatable sack tied to the cow’s back.

“As cattle release greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, we propose a practical and economical way to sequester these emissions and energy use as a substitute,” said Guillermo Berra, INTA’s animal physiology coordinator.

Each sack is filled with 1,200 liters of cow flatulence each day and then taken to a lab, which can then separate the methane emitted by the cow — about 250 to 300 liters per day. The methane is then compressed and stored in containers which can then power appliances or even cars.

“A cow emits about 300 liters of methane per day, which can be used to operate a fridge capacity of 100 liters at a temperature of between two and six degrees for a full day,” Ricardo Bualo, an INTA technician involved with the project.

The United Nations says that livestock emissions account for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases from human activity. The main source of livestock emissions comes from cow digestive systems, which produce 39 percent of livestock emissions. The decomposition of manure accounts for 10 percent of livestock emissions.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane makes up nine percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which the agency says drive global warming. Most of this comes from the agriculture sector, in particular, the dairy industry.

President Obama announced his administration would take actions to limit U.S. methane emissions last March. One of the industries Obama singled out was the dairy industry because of the contributions cow farts and manure made to methane emissions.

The White House proposed cutting dairy industry by 25 percent methane emissions by 2020, despite the fact that U.S. methane emissions falling 11 percent since 1990.

“Of all domestic animal types, beef and dairy cattle were by far the largest emitters of [methane],” according to an EPA analysis charting greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Cows and other animals produce methane through digestion, which ferments the food of animals.

“During digestion, microbes resident in an animal’s digestive system ferment food consumed by the animal,” the EPA notes. “This microbial fermentation process, referred to as enteric fermentation, produces [methane] as a byproduct, which can be exhaled or eructated by the animal.”

There are no indications that the Obama administration will require U.S. cows to wear methane capturing backpacks.

“According to INTA, the trial of the system has now concluded but the team’s proof of concept could be used as the basis of a much larger scale program in the future,” Springwise.com reports. “Although there could be potential concern for the wellbeing of the animals, each cow was anesthetized for the insertion of the cannula and the backpacks weigh no more than 500g each.”

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