Chinese dairy raises the bar for cow-pat power

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A Chinese dairy farm is installing the world's largest system to turn steaming cow pats into enough electricity to power thousands of homes, it was reported Tuesday.

The device at the Huishan Dairy is 10 times bigger than similar systems and will take the excrement from 60,000 cows and capture methane from the fermenting pats, according to Technology Review magazine.

It will generate almost six megawatts of electricity - enough power for 3,500 American-size households but could service many more Chinese ones, which consume less energy.

The dairy, based in Liaoning province, northeast China, imports 3,000 cows from Australia every month just to sustain its massive stock of 250,000 cows - about double the number of dairy cows in the entire state of Florida.

The project could draw attention to the possibilities of biogas, the magazine quoted Ann Wilkie, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Florida, as saying.

"It shows this is not a phantom technology we have to wait for in the future," she said. "It's something we can do now to deal with existing waste, and garner renewable energy."

China's rapidly growing dairy farming industry is a major new source of greenhouse-gas emissions.

But Huishan's new system will prevent methane, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, from reaching the atmosphere, according to Technology Review.

It will also reduce waste and odours, and produce a valuable organic fertiliser that's safer than raw manure.

China has become the biggest source of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and the government has embarked on a huge programme to develop renewable energies such as hydroelectric, wind and other power sources.

The Chinese government estimates that millions of small farms already have such primitive manure digesters, according to the publication.

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