Cow dung ‘could power UK household for $2,200 a year’

A new technique could provide a simple and cost-effective way to remove more of the potent greenhouse gas from the atmosphere

Electricity generated from lightning strikes is turning to cow dung, according to a British scientist working on how to trap rising greenhouse gas levels.

A new method involving zapping dung with lightning could reduce emissions by a third and lead to improved efficiency in other ways, according to Glenn Sturgess, a professor of meteorology at Britain’s Exeter University.

There has long been a need to capture greenhouse gases such as methane from natural sources like methane gas from geothermal energy and livestock farming.

The method, being developed by Sturgess and his colleagues, works by putting coal tar soaked cow dung in hot water and then using a high-intensity beam of electricity produced by a powerful lightning bolt to fire a small quantity of carbon dioxide out of the dung.

“The lightning has to be very intense, it has to be directed down, so you don’t see any effect on the reflectivity,” Sturgess said in a telephone interview.

“If you saw it on a clear day, you would think it was quite attractive.”

Electricity would be produced through the second step of simultaneously absorbing the carbon dioxide and releasing electrons, Sturgess said.

The method, which is being trialled in Devon in south-west England, is expected to be the world’s first successful way to capture carbon dioxide from animal dung.

About a fifth of the world’s methane emissions, one of the gases most potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere, comes from cattle and other grazing animals.

Such emissions are also believed to contribute to increased levels of global warming, and the widespread use of cattle is also a major source of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas too.

Meanwhile about one third of greenhouse gas emissions originate from coal-fired power plants, which the Obama administration has sought to curb under the US Clean Power Plan aimed at combating climate change by restricting emissions.

Energy-intensive power plants produce so much carbon dioxide that improved combustion techniques to capture some of it have proven challenging.

Sturgess said the method being developed in Devon is aimed at capturing just enough carbon dioxide to meet the power needs of an average household.

“In the light of the fuel efficiency required for homes to meet the energy needs of an average household, the power that could be generated at this cost, based on current technology, would be around £2,200 a year,” he said.

“That’s cheap enough for a country to decide this is cost-effective.”

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