Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: methane

Innovating dairy digester research

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and cooperative extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine runs experiments in capturing biogas.

California leads the nation in agricultural production, producing nearly all the nation's leafy green vegetables, most nut and fruit varieties, and is ranked first in egg and dairy production.

What that means is that California also produces a lot of agricultural waste materials, including lots of manure.

Historically these waste materials have been used as a rich source of compost. However, researchers at UC Cooperative Extension are researching innovative uses for this material. 

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on better ways to manage waste material for both large and small farms. Dr. Pandey researches how to convert the organic matter in manure and other waste materials into a renewable energy source that can be used to power our state.

Converting manure to renewable energy

California gets over 27% of its energy from renewable resources like solar wind, and hydroelectric. Our goal is 50% renewable energy by 2030. California is taking steps towards this goal by building a network of dairy digesters which use bacteria to break down dairy manure and convert it into biogas. Clean burning fuels, such as biogas, are a sustainable source for generating energy because when they are burned, harmful by products are not produced.

Big bonus

A bonus is that the solid material left after the digesters have done their job is a fertilizer that can be used to grow the fruits, vegetables and nuts that our state is famous for. This type of fertilizer contains nutrients that are more readily available for plants because the digestion process breaks up organic materials more efficiently than traditional composting. The digestion process also helps reduce the number of harmful bacteria found in manure, making it much safer for use on plants grown for human food.

California leading in discovery and innovation

When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. People like Dr. Pandey are driving forward research and technology to minimize the impact of agriculture production on the environment. When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. His multidisciplinary approach to solving this complex problem of agricultural waste materials and water/air quality helps improve the economic wellbeing of farmers, and benefits Californians by providing nutrients for safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

While the importance of California's agriculture might be huge, its footprint on the environment doesn't have to be, and it is researchers like Dr. Pramod Pandey who are ensuring our state leads in discovery and innovation for many harvests to come.

Heather Johnson, Instructional Systems Designer, Gregory Wlasiuk, E-Learning Curriculum Designer, and Dr. Sara Garcia, Project Scientist, with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis, provided the script for the video which was used in this story. View Heather, Sara and Greg's filming and editing skills in the video below. Greg provides the narration. 

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 2:27 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Innovation

Pollution regulations stymie dairy electricity generation

For Central Valley dairies, conflicting laws are making it hard to generate green electricity from dairy waste, according to an article this week in the Los Angeles Times.

In order to reduce emissions of methane - a greenhouse gas - some dairy operators have installed methane digesters that convert the methane into electricity.

However, the process produces nitrogen oxides (NOx), which react with volatile organic compounds to create ozone, a significant air pollution problem in the San Joaquin Valley. NOx levels for the valley, a region with air pollution among the most severe in the country, is set by federal officials and enforced by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The district is requiring expensive modifications on digesters, which in some cases shuts the equipment down altogether. Air district officials told the LA Times they're just doing their jobs. "Combating smog, not climate change, is the agency's mission," Times reporter P.J. Huffstutter wrote.

Modesto dairy operator John Fiscalini spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a catalytic converter and other filtering equipment to meet the air district's limit of 11 parts per million of NOx for his digester system.

UC Davis Cooperative Extension animal scientist Frank Mitloehner told the Times that works out to equal the emissions of 26 cars for every 1,000 cows.

"They have a point. I want clean air," Visalia dairy farmer Ron Koetsier was quoted in the story. "But it doesn't make financial sense for me keep doing this. I don't see how they can turn methane gas into electricity in California, given these rules."

Dairy cow in California.
Dairy cow in California.

Posted on Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 9:57 AM

UC helps Marin dairy operators clear the air

UC Cooperative Extension provided Marin ranchers and dairy operators exposure at a two-hour workshop Feb. 2 to the latest conservation practices that can help the agriculture industry reduce its environmental impacts and increase farm and ranch energy efficiency.

In addition to local farmers, reporter Rob Rogers was at the event collecting information for an article published in the Marin Independent Journal yesterday.

Rogers reported that cows produce a smaller percentage of greenhouse gases in the United States and Europe than in other nations, where farming is a larger part of the economy, and where it's practiced less efficiently. According to the United Nations, livestock produce about 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gasses. In the U.S., livestock is responsible for just 5.8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Workshop speaker Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis air quality specialist, said research shows that it is cows - not waste storage lagoons - that emit most methane and nitrous oxide on dairies.

"Lagoon waste is so heavily diluted that it's a smaller factor than fresh waste," Mitloehner was quoted in the story.

He offered solutions that may not sit well with organic producers:

  • Produce more milk with fewer cows by increasing efficiency.

  • Cut back on grass-fed cattle, which, because of extra roughage, produce more methane.

Albert Strauss, an organic dairy farmer who also spoke at the meeting, noted that reducing cow emissions is only part of the environmental picture. One option for reducing dairy emissions is converting waste into energy with a methane digester. Using this technology, the Strauss operation meets its own energy needs and will soon be selling extra energy back to PG&E, the article said.


Posted on Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 10:55 AM

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