The phrase “cow pie” doesn’t exactly scream “precious commodity.” But as more farms begin to use anaerobic digesters to turn waste into energy (and save big bucks in the process), manure is sounding more and more like money.

We recently learned that researchers at Clarkson University in upstate New York have received a $1 million grant from the state of New York to figure out how local farms can turn waste from livestock and dairy production into power.

The centerpiece of the project will be a $2 million anaerobic digester at a dairy farm in Jefferson County, N.Y. The project will serve as a model for other farms, and the team of engineers and designers working on it are aiming to make major improvements on the current technology, which is both costly and finicky.


Anaerobic digesters are complicated, but basically, they use the natural process of anaerobic decomposition to take bacteria out of dung and turn it into two good things: an energy source called biogas and usable fertilizer. For more details, we recommend checking out the Adelaide University site, which offers a good explanation of the process.

Next question: When will this technology become applicable to other species? We know a few dog owners, for example, who wish their pups would start earning their keep.

This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in January 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2008