October 20, 2011

Pig Poop Helps Google Go Carbon Neutral.

On its continued quest to achieve carbon neutrality, Google recently announced that it will invest an undisclosed amount of money in a project that converts waste from a pig farm into usable energy.

The pilot project, which was constructed by Duke University and Duke Energy, is located at Loyd Ray Farms, a 9,000-head swine operation in northwest Yadkinville, N.C.

The system uses an anaerobic digester to capture greenhouse gases from hog waste. By burning the waste to run a turbine, the system produces enough electricity to power 35 homes for a year. It is expected to be able to prevent the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to nearly 5,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is like taking 900 cars off the road.

Typical hog farms collect the pig poop in open waste lagoons which release large amounts of methane  into the atmosphere, and often leach harmful substances into the soil, threatening ground water supplies. Methane gas is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, pound-for-pound, as a greenhouse gas, and is said to be one of the leading causes of climate change.

According to Environmental Leader, Google will assume a share of the university’s portion of the costs in return for a portion of the carbon offsets for a 5-year term.

“Through this pilot, Duke is showing how these projects can make economic sense for North Carolinians and lead to dramatic reductions in emissions over the long term,” said Jolanka Nickerman, program manager of Google’s carbon offsets program. “We hope that technologies like this can scale across the U.S. and the world.” The true sign of success will be when other farms see the benefits of the system and ask Duke University or this farm in particular how they can do something similar.”

According to a statement by Duke University, the $1.2 million prototype system was built with mostly off-the-shelf technology and is an “open source” design that others may freely adopt. Its creators hope that it will serve as a model for other hog farms seeking to manage waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and develop on-farm renewable power.

“It is exciting to see the system up and running, and even more exciting that it’s getting recognized by Google,” said Tatjana Vujic, (TOT-ee-ana VOICH) director of the university’s Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative. “Completing this full-scale system and getting it operational is a great testament to its design and the foresight of all of its various supporters.”

The project is expected to yield many benefits beyond renewable energy production and greenhouse gas reductions, including improved water and air quality; reduced odors, pathogens and nutrients; and increased farm productivity.

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