Dairy powers itself with cow poop — including 42 tractor-trailers

Here at one of the largest dairy farms in the country, electricity generated using an endless supply of manure runs the equipment to milk around 30,000 cows three times a day.

For years, the farm has used livestock waste to create enough natural gas to power 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop and a maze of child-friendly exhibits about the world of dairy, including a 3D movie theater.

All that, and Fair Oaks Farms was still using only about half of the five million pounds of cow manure it vacuumed up from its barn floors on a daily basis. It burned off the excess methane, wasted energy sacrificed to the sky.

But not anymore.

The farm is now turning the extra manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, powering 42 tractor-trailers that make daily runs to raw milk processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Officials from the federal Department of Energy called the endeavor a “pacesetter” for the dairy industry, and said it was the largest natural gas fleet using agricultural waste to drive this nation’s roads.

As long as we keep milking cows, we never run out of gas,” said Gary Corbett, chief executive of Fair Oaks, which held a ribbon-cutting event for the project this month and opened two fueling stations to the public…

The American Gas Association estimates there are about 1,200 natural gas fueling stations operating across the country, the vast majority of which are supplied by the same pipelines that heat houses.

But the growing market is also drawing interest from livestock farmers, landfill management companies and other industries handling methane-rich material that, if harnessed, could create a nearly endless supply of cleaner, safer, sustainable “biogas,” while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To be sure, no one is pretending that waste-to-energy projects will become a major part of the larger natural gas vehicle market. But supporters say it could provide additional incentive to make biogas systems, which have lagged behind other sustainable energy solutions, more commercially viable.

RTFA. Partnerships are growing between dairy farmers and NatGas industry providers. They say we’ll be surprised how much they will grow over the next five years.

I’m ready to be surprised. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

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