Pig Poop Helps Power Netherlands

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June 10, 2009—Methane-rich pig excrement on a large Netherlands farm is being turned into electricity and partially fed into the national power grid.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript This man in The Netherlands is combining farming and science to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as generate extra revenue from these livestock.

He uses the waste from 2,700 pigs at Sterksel Research Centre to produce electricity.

SOUNDBITE: (Dutch) John Horrevorts, Manager of Praktijkcentrum Pig Farm: "At this moment we are producing enough electricity at our bio-gas installation for 1,500 households and for that we are using all the pig muck from our farm. So in total we produce about five-thousand mega watts a year."

The farm uses the electricity it needs, and feeds the rest into the national grid, for which the government pays up to $238 US dollars per megawatt as a green energy subsidy.

United Nations scientists say farming and forestry account for more than 30 percent of the greenhouse gases that are gradually heating the Earth.

Much of that pollution comes from cattle, sheep and pigs that belch or excrete methane, a heat-trapping gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the most common global warming gas.

One way to deal with the problem is to make use of it and burn it.

The waste from the pigs at Sterksel Research Centre drops through slats in the floor.

The slurry is then channeled into three, four-thousand cubic meter tanks, mixed into a thick paste with other organic waste, and then broken down by bacteria.

The gas is then siphoned off into a generator to produce electricity.

Together with four other commercial farms, the group reportedly saves 40-thousand tons of carbon emissions per year, which can be sold as credits for nearly $7 US dollars per ton to offset carbon emissions.

Though operating expenses for the biogas plant are considerable, the combination of electricity savings, power production and carbon credits makes it profitable.

SOUNDBITE: (Dutch) John Horrevorts, Manager of Praktijkcentrum Pig Farm: "I expect that this technique will excel in the coming three years. The technology used is becoming more and more advanced and efficient and because of that it is getting easier for a farmer to use it on his farm."

About 50 commercial biogas plants are operating on farms across the Netherlands, and the practice is spreading across industrial livestock farms around the world.

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