'We’re showing organic farming can be part of a climate change solution'
Finally! An All-Electric Feed Truck, Powered Completely by Cow Poop
August 9, 2017 Dan Nosowitz
[image / Straus Family Creamery
(e-truck recharged from cow manure methane fueled electricity) This
truck—and all of the Straus Family Creamery—is powered by manure from the
farm's dairy cows
FIRST FULL-SCALE ELECTRIC TRUCK POWERED BY COW POOP from MagicBullet Media,
Inc. on Vimeo.
Despite a recent mini-boom in electric vehicles, the agriculture industry
has yet to find a way to make the switch from gas- and diesel-powered
equipment. But this dairy farmer has found a way.
“We’re trying to show that organic dairy farming can be part of a solution
to climate change.”
Albert Straus, of Marin County, California, is a pioneering farmer in the
sustainability movement. His dairy, Straus Family Creamery [
], became the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi River
back in 1994, he’s the primary dairy provider for Cowgirl Creamery [
] (one of the country’s best cheesemakers), and for more than a decade, his
Marshall, California farm has been powered by material produced
on-site—namely, cow poop.
How? Straus uses a covered lagoon operating as a methane digester convert
cow manure into electricity.
Turning Poop into Power
“Every day, we flush and scrape the manure from the barn, which goes into a
manure separator that removed the solids from the liquids,” he explains. The
solids are used as fertilizer, but the real magic is in the liquids. The
liquids are streamed into an artificial pond that’s been covered to create
an anaerobic environment. Microbes in the pond digest the starches and
sugars in the manure liquid, expelling methane. That methane is then routed
to an engine where it’s combusted in a way not entirely unlike gasoline,
Straus has been dropping about 4,000 gallons of manure per day into his
digester system, along with at least that much diluted by-products from the
creamery, such as whey, for 13 years. Today, he says, the digester “produces
all the electricity and most of the hot water needs for the farm.” (The
engine that converts methane to electricity spits off a lot of excess heat,
which is captured and used to heat the water the farm uses for cleaning
purposes.) Because the whole system is so efficient, the farm actually
produces more energy than it needs, which they get paid to pump back into
the local energy grid.
With his own source of clean energy, the next step was an electric vehicle.
Straus driven electric cars in his daily life since 2002, and also has small
electric vehicles, like a golf cart and an ATV-like vehicle, that he uses on
the farm. But heavy machinery is something totally different and much more
difficult. The requirements of farm vehicles like mixers, tractors, trucks,
and combines are not quite like those of your standard sedan—they have to be
able to go very slow, they need enormous amounts of torque and power, and
are also much heavier and power-demanding than cars.
Even the biggest companies haven’t fully gotten into the electric heavy
vehicle game. John Deere has an electric tractor [
] concept in the prototype stage. Tesla has teased an electric semi-truck.
So in the absence of an easily purchased electric vehicle, Straus chose to
go his own way and has spent nearly a decade working on his own electric
feed mixer and distributor vehicle. And now it’s up and running, fully
powered by energy harvested from manure.
A Farm-Friendly EV Truck
Straus’s truck began as a 1990s-era International Harvester. Over the years,
he and various contractors have replaced parts and rejiggered systems to
convert it to electricity. It hasn’t been a perfectly smooth transformation;
one attempt to use two coupled DC motors resulted in the destruction of one
of said motors during a slow downhill trek. But after eight years of work,
and the help of a local mechanic, Straus has the truck he always wanted.
There’s no reason this system should be limited to organic farming.
Conventionally raised cows produce poop, too.
The newly electric vehicle is powered by the batteries from two wrecked
Nissan Leaf electric cars and can make it through the day without running
out of juice. It’s running at about 170-horsepower and 950-lb-ft of torque,
easily enough to handle its daily duties. And if plugged in, it can charge
its batteries while mixing feed.
The total cost of the retrofit was about $130,000, though Straus thinks as
much as $30,000 of that could be avoided now that he understands better how
to build it. The electricity, of course, comes from the methane digester.
Straus estimates that he saves about $10,000 a year on fuel costs for the
truck, all while removing 18 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the
“We’re trying to show that organic dairy farming can be part of a solution
to climate change,” says Straus. Methane from livestock accounts for about
40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the entire country, and this
project manages to take that extreme negative and turn it into a positive.
Sure, cows release methane, but instead of fighting it, why not make it
valuable? It’s also worth noting that there’s no particular reason this
system should be limited to organic dairy farming; conventionally raised
cows produce poop, too.
Does it Scale?
The major impediment to most farmers who want to follow Straus’ lead is
cost. Methane digesters are wildly expensive.
“Most of the systems cost millions of dollars,” says Straus, though his was
a relatively inexpensive $350,000, and he was able to secure grants to knock
another $150,000 off the price tag. But even that is out of reach of most
farmers, despite the fact that a methane digester like this could lower
energy costs by $40,000 to $50,000 per year.
But Straus is helping to make systems like his more affordable. “We’re
working with a company based in Washington state to build and operate
methane digesters on farms,” he says. “Farmers need to farm and not be
diverted by other enterprises that take time away from farming.” They’re
imagining a set-up where a staff would come in and perform all the tasks
needed to keep the digester going: running the separators, shoveling manure,
and maintaining all the equipment. Straus is also talking to the state of
California to look into ways to make it affordable for farmers to install
these systems. “I think it’s a win-win, not only for the farmer but also a
positive for the environment,” says Straus.
[© Modern Farmer Media, 2017]
Generator capacity: 80 kW
Average performance per month: 28,800 kWh
Average performance per day : 960 kWh
Implementation cost: $334,680 – initial conversion to anaerobic digester
Initial funding: $155,261 – DPPP and EPA through CA Water Quality Board
Annual cost savings: $40,000 - $50,000
Return on investment: 4-5 years ...
California dairy farmer develops full-scale electric truck
Jul 28, 2017 California dairy producer has developed full-scale electric
truck powered by cow manure. This new full-scale-electric feed truck is the
next step in Straus' quest to show that ... gross weight International
Harvester truck to use as a feed truck on his farm ...
Straus Family Creamery fuels electric feed truck with cow gas
07/26/17 Straus Family Creamery has introduced to its fleet the first
full-scale electric feed ... to use agriculture against climate change with
the addition of an all-electric ... The 33,000-pound International Harvester
feed truck receives its power from ... cow waste. The vehicle is charged
from energy created by the methane digester ...
Electric farm truck uses cow manure for power
Jul 31st, 2017 ... Facing pressure to lower methane emissions under the
California’s new greenhouse gas reduction laws, Straus found a way to
convert methane gas from cow manure into energy ... Along with a local
mechanic, Straus spent eight years developing an electric truck that ...
He's using the International Harvester truck as a feed truck on his farm ...
California Organic Dairy Farmer Out-Innovates Tesla with First Full-Scale
Jul 26, 2017 PETALUMA, Calif., July 26, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Tesla,
mooo-ve over: California dairy farmer Albert Straus, a pioneer in organic
dairy and sustainable agriculture, announces the launch of the first
full-scale electric truck—powered by cow poop ...
This new full-scale-electric feed truck is the next step in Straus' quest
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