Dutch farmers launch €150m cow poop-to-power project

CC BY 2.0 Ryan Thompson/USDA/flickr

As we wait for the world's meat eaters to fall in love with bloody veggie burgers and fake meat (or, you know, carrots), something needs to be done about agricultural emissions. According to a report in The Guardian, the Dutch dairy industry is setting out to do something about it by building a gigantic network of decentralized, farm-scale biogas digesters.

Apparently, agricultural emissions account for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in The Netherlands. So now FrieslandCampina, the country’s largest dairy collective, is encouraging its farmers to lease anaerobic digesters. Those farmers are then given a 12 year fixed price for the energy generated.

I should note that the report includes interviews with some skeptics of this scheme. Can it compete with cheap coal and gas? Do decentralized digesters make sense or should the industry be gunning for larger, more centralized generating units? Those are all issues that presumably will make themselves known over time. With the collective aiming to sign up 1000 farms within the first four years, it seems certain that the Dutch will see a lot more biogas generation than they are currently.

The other issue, of course, is that anaerobic digestion only takes care of emissions at one end of the cow. Emissions from cows burping are another major problem, as are those associated with growing feed in the first place. There's a reason why some biogas schemes are aiming to circumvent animal agriculture entirely.

Still, I don't see the Dutch giving up cheese any time soon. In much the same way as Tesla's sexy solar shingles should be celebrated, but shouldn't be used as an alternative to dense, walkable cities, we can applaud shifts to make meat and dairy greener while still encouraging a reduction in consumption.

Dutch farmers launch €150m cow poop-to-power project
Cows create a lot of waste. Now a coalition of Dutch farmers plans to put it to good use.

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