From patties to power

As the benefits of renewable energy continue to present themselves, dairy farmers are starting to take advantage in an unusual way.Professor Benoit St. Pierre and animal science department chair Andre-Denis Wright are studying new ways to convert cow manure into energy at Mountain Dairy farm in Sheldon, Vt.”Using DNA sequencing and other sophisticated techniques, the scientists are exploring the microbial ecology of the digester’s contents to see if its population of methanogens can be coaxed into higher productivity,” University Communications stated.If manure from 95 million animals in the United States was to be converted to energy, they would produce one percent of the nation’s energy, according to the American Dairy Science Association website.That one percent of energy is equivalent to eight billion gallons of gasoline, the Association stated.In order to convert manure to energy, farmers must install anaerobic digesters which break down the waste from the manure and transform it into renewable energy, according to the Association website. The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2010 that there are 151 farmers currently using anaerobic digesters, eight of which are from Vermont. Farmers in Vermont receive assistance in installing the anaerobic digesters through the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation’s Cow Power Program, according to the Cow Power Program website.Some students said that they want to see more sources for energy, but aren’t sure how cow manure will help.”I’m always intrigued by new alternative sources for energy; however, I’m skeptical about the actual utility of this process,” senior Greg Ramey said. “It’ll be exciting to see where this goes.”Senior Graham Robertson said that he thinks members of the Cow Power Program should receive government support.”If farmers can use the fertilizer as it’s traditionally used and as a form of energy to become self-sufficient, then the government should definitely support things like this,” Robertson said.