Organic dairy pioneer develops electric semi-truck powered by cow poop

Straus Family Creamery electric truck
© Straus Family Creamery

Albert Straus, of Straus Family Creamery, beats Elon Musk to the punch with his full-scale electric truck that runs on methane-generated electricity.

This California organic dairy farmer is making a mooo-ve away from diesel fuel and toward more sustainable agriculture transportation with his full-electric International Harvester truck that puts his cows' waste to work.

One major step on the pathway to a circular economy is finding ways to transform waste materials into feedstock for other products, whether that's as a raw material for production, or as a 'fuel' for generating energy. For dairy farms, the massive amount of cow manure produced by the cows each day can be either a bothersome byproduct that must be dealt with, or it can present a big opportunity. Sure, manure is readily turned into compost and soil amendments without a complicated process and specialized equipment, but there's only so much of that that one operation needs. Another way that dairy farmers are converting their most voluminous 'crop' to meet a different need, energy, is through biodigesters that can essentially turn cow poop into clean electricity and heat for their operations.

At the Straus Family Creamery, a biodigester has been generating free power for onsite use, as well as charging the farm's electric Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Leaf, along with various smaller vehicles, since 2004, but the company has now added a major upgrade to the farm's renewable infrastructure - an electric semi-truck.

Straus Family Creamery electric truckStraus Family Creamery/Video screen capture
In a project that ultimately took 8 years to complete, Albert Straus and a local mechanic converted a 33,000 pound International Harvester semi-truck to an all-electric hauler, which is now used as a feed truck to mix and haul the feed for the nearly 300 dairy cows on the organic farm. The truck's batteries are charged with clean electricity that is generated by the methane gas produced by those same cows' manure in the farm's biodigester, which lends a bit of a cradle-to-cradle (or cow-to-cow, if you like) element to the Straus operation.

"My electric feed truck is not only a practical tool for my organic farm. It is also a symbol of the resourcefulness we need to fight climate change, which threatens our business and the future of American farming." -
Albert Straus, CEO and founder of Straus Family Creamery

Straus infographic© Straus Family Creamery
Straus has not only managed to green another aspect of his company's operations, but also managed to beat Elon Musk to launching a full-size electric semi-truck at the same time. Of course, with the production of the Model 3 commencing, Iron Man's got his hands full, and Straus just has the one electric truck, not a production line, but even so, it's still a worthy achievement to be able to build and run a large farm truck with cow poop (on-site energy production for the win).

According to Straus' experiences with a biodigester, turning manure into methane and then electricity is not only a good green option, but also a financially viable one, which will continue to pay energy dividends for years (possibly decades) to come. The 80 kW generator produces about 28,800 kWh of clean electricity each month, as well as heat for water used to clean the barns, and although the cost of implementing the system ran somewhere north of $330,000, it is said to generate a return on that investment in as little as 4 years, and will save the farm up to $50,000 in costs per year.

"What I've tried to do is create a sustainable organic farming model that is good for the earth, the soil, the animals, and the people working on these farms, and helps revitalize rural communities." - Straus

Straus Family Creamery electric truckStraus Family Creamery/Video screen capture

Straus worked with the Marin Carbon Project to develop a 20-year carbon farming plan capable of sequestering some 2,000 metric tons of carbon each year, and in doing so, became the first dairy in the state to take that major step toward delivering a practical and effective climate solution on-site. According to the company website, Albert Straus is actively working toward weaning the entire 500-acre farm off of fossil fuels, and the timing is right to make some mooo-ves (sorry) to mitigate on-farm greenhouse gases, because of California's mandate of reducing methane emissions to "40% below 2013 levels by 2030." In the Golden State, dairy manure is said to account for about 25% of the state's methane emissions.

The next manure-to-vehicle project from Straus is said to be a fully-electric Farmers Market truck, which will haul the company's organic dairy products to local markets in the Bay area, but there's no word on the timing for that manure-to-market venture.

Tags: Electric Vehicles | Farming

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