U.S. Dairy Industry Plans 25% GHG Emissions Cut by 2020

by | Dec 16, 2009

cows2The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are working together to help the U.S. dairy industry reach its goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent over the next decade. One part of the strategy is to turn methane gas from livestock manure into electricity.

Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the USDA and the dairy group identified a variety of projects that can help the dairy industry meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, while increasing its financial and environmental sustainability. Some initiatives will help the industry develop future technologies, support renewable energy and improve energy efficiency.

The agreement could help accelerate opportunities to capture methane gas from livestock manure and convert it into electricity, coordinate research information on life-cycle assessments and support the industry’s efforts in energy audits, feed management and energy conservation, according to the Innovation Center.

The Innovation Center has nearly completed a life-cycle assessment of fluid milk from the farm to the table. Initial estimates by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas show that the entire dairy supply chain, from cattle feed ingredients through packaging and transportation to the consumer’s table, accounts for less than 2 percent of total GHG emissions in the U.S., said the Innovation Center.

Dairy stakeholders have identified the reduction of enteric emissions of methane from livestock as part of its plan to cut GHG emissions.

The MOU will also help accelerate adoption of methane gas (anaerobic) digesters for all sizes of dairy farms, making it easier to connect digesters to electricity grids and help digester operators capture potential carbon offset payments, said the Innovation Center. Using anaerobic digesters is a proven method of converting waste products, such as manure, into electricity, according to the USDA.

Additional support from the USDA could include research on how feed mixtures affect methane emissions from cows.

An organic dairy farm has already figured out how to adjust its cattle feed mix to reduce methane emissions by 12 percent.

The agreement comes in the wake of the Dairy Power Summit held in October in New York to discuss the potential for dairy-supplied renewable energy. The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, with sponsorship from GE Energy, coordinated the conference in order to identify ways to increase anaerobic digester adoption by dairy farms of all sizes

Attendees set a goal to generate electricity from 40 percent of all manure from New York dairy farms by 2020, which could power 32,000 homes, reports the Innovation Center. The dairy group said the pilot program could be adopted by farms and communities across the nation.

The project is expected to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by 500,000 metric tons of carbon, equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road, according to the dairy association.

The strategy fits in with New York Governor Paterson’s “45 by 15” program, which calls for the state to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency (15 percent) and renewable energy, including methane (30 percent) by 2015.

To meet the 40 percent anaerobic digester use by 2020, summit attendees also developed an action plan, consisting of more than a dozen projects including a Small-Farm Digester Initiative and a Digester Implementation Project. All of the projects are designed to promote efforts to increase the availability of energy and fuel from methane digesters, while strengthening the role that farms play in their regions.

A Vermont dairy company shows it can be done. In October, Westminster Farms partnered with Green Mountain Power to build an on-site plant to convert methane from cattle manure into electricity that is expected to provide 225 kilowatts or enough electricity to power 250 homes.

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