Chinese Factory Turns Environmental Bane into Boon
China is beginning to take advantage of an unusual energy source: cow gas. Cows emit a significant amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, when they belch and flatulate. According to People’s Daily, the world’s largest cow-dung methane power plant started operation on January 21 in China’s Inner Mongolia region. With an investment of 45 million RMB (roughly $US5.7 million) from the country’s largest milk producer, Mengniu Dairy, the plant is able to supply 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity to the national power grid.
Using equipment and technology from Germany, the plant processes the dung, urine, and waste water from some 10,000 cows on Mengniu’s farm. The facility is able to produce 12,000 cubic meters of methane and generate 30,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily.
The heat derived from the power generation will be used for daily heating at the farm, and the water will be recycled for irrigation. The facility also produces 200,000 tons of organic fertilizers a year, a practice that will save 5,000 tons of coal annually.
Methane gas is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide after carbon dioxide. An adult cow emits 80 to 110 kilograms of the gas over its lifetime. Worldwide, 1.2 billion large ruminants, including cows, produce an estimated 80 million tons of methane annually, accounting for some 28 percent of global methane emissions from human-related activities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In total, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
The practice of methane capture has caught the attention of international carbon traders. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, companies can trade so-called “carbon credits” to help them meet their allowances of greenhouse gas emissions. China has become a major destination for European carbon buyers due to its low prices for the credits. The country also benefits from the financial resources and technologies transferred as a result of those trades.
Mengniu has reached preliminary agreement with a carbon-trading company based in the Netherlands. The Mengniu facility is the first such methane-capture plant in China’s dairy industry. Other Chinese dairy producers, including Yili Group, have similar projects on their agendas.
While reducing pollution and saving energy, the Mengniu plant also contributes to diversifying the power-generation portfolio of the region. Inner Mongolia is now China’s top coal-rich region, a distinction it captured from neighboring Shanxi province in August 2007. It plays a critical role in supplying coal-fired power to North China’s industrial bases and energy-hungry metropolises like Beijing and Tianjin.