When it comes to ‘green’ sources of energy, you’re probably familiar with solar power and wind power, having seen solar panels and windmills at various places around the country. You might also have heard of geothermal energy and a few other types of non-fossil-fuel energy sources.
But did you know that pig manure is poised to become a major source of environmentally friendly energy? Even as we speak, pig farms large and small are in the process of converting their facilities to process pig manure into biogas, a green source of energy which can then supply power to homes and businesses.
Converting Manure to Energy
Under a traditional setup, waste from raising pigs is a major burden for farmers. For one thing, pigs produce an incredible amount of waste in comparison with other livestock, and that waste is particularly foul smelling. Farmers are forced to store pig waste in lagoons where it creates an unpleasant odor throughout the surrounding area.
Making matters worse is the fact that pig manure contributes methane to the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As a result, regulations attempt to disincentivize farms and businesses from producing it.
The conversion process of pig manure to biogas to energy is a godsend for farmers in a variety of ways. First of all, converting pig waste into biogas means that the pig waste doesn’t accumulate to the same degree that it previously did. As a result, farmers need to allocate less space to store the waste. The converted biogas smells better than the pig manure, meaning the surrounding communities and areas aren’t as burdened by the smell.
The best part of the conversion process is that it changes methane gas into natural gas which can be used as an energy source. In effect, the process of converting pig waste into biogas kills two birds with one stone: It reduces methane emissions while creating a viable and useful energy source. In order to create biogas out of pig manure, farms convert their waste lagoons to covered digesters which trap methane gas and convert it to biogas. In effect, the covers can be thought of as similar to a large balloon containing the methane gas produced by the pig waste. Within the balloon, the process of converting methane into clean natural gas takes place. Once converted, that gas can be funneled to wherever it will be processed into energy.
Many farms currently harvesting biogas process the energy on their own site, using a mini turbine to create energy from the biogas. In some more advanced models, a pipeline brings biogas to a centralized location like a power plant where the gas is converted to energy.
The Future of Pig Waste Biogas
Several large pig farming concerns are jumping into the business of processing biogas. Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world and owner of more than 500 pig farms in the United States alone, has announced an initiative to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025. The process of converting pig manure into biogas is at the heart of Smithfield’s initiative. Smithfield is in the process of converting farms in multiple US states to process biogas from pig waste, as well as, increasing the number of Smithfield Foods jobs associated with the project.
Traditionally, the issue with biogas has been that it’s not cost competitive with either petroleum or natural gas. However, as the world continues to push toward more green energy sources, biogas is becoming more and more relevant.