Monday, December 19, 2005

Green Product: Milk and Methane

When he lives in Berkeley CA, my son drinks organic milk made by the Strauss Family Creamery. Until I looked at the bottle, I didn't appreciate how green a product this stuff is. Ecological economists should be impressed by the "closed loop" nature of this firm's production process. Waste from Cows (an output) is used as an input in the production of electricity. To use a more technical term, this firm transforms "poop into power". I wish that my son could do the same!

The only thing I don't like about the article I reproduce below is that there is no information concerning the cost of setting up this "green power" plant. If it is such a great idea, why have adoption rates been low? Do we need to subsidize this activity to make it happen?

Is Strauss able to charge a "green price" premium because of their production techniques or does the typical consumer view this product as having perfect substitutes?

Press Release
May 13, 2004
Contact: Vivien Straus
(415) 663-5464 x110

From POOP to Power
Straus Powers Dairy With Methane

MARSHALL, CA - Completing a 5 year process, Straus Family Creamery, California's cutting-edge organic dairy, created electricity today from its new methane digester. The digester captures naturally occurring gas from manure and converts it into electricity.

With this new system, Straus is expected to generate up to 600,000 kWh per year, saving about 6,000 dollars in monthly energy costs.

This process will also eliminate methane, a natural by-product of manure. According to the 2003 U.S. Department of Energy Report on Greenhouse Gases, agricultural sources, primarily animal waste, account for approximately 3% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Funded by California's SB5X alternative energy grant program, this is the first system to take advantage of regulations of net metering law which effectively allows the entire Straus operation to run meters in reverse as excess electricity is sent back into the grid.

Managing manure in a way that protects the environment has always been a goal of Albert Straus, farmer and owner of Straus Family Creamery. A cow can generate 120 lbs of waste per day, which translates to 40,000 lbs. per year per animal. While all waste at Straus dairy is composted and reused as fertilizer, this system provides additional and far-reaching benefits.

The project was funded in part with grants from California's Energy Commission (CEC), Marin County Resource Conservation District (RCD), California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. EPA and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other support came from Sustainable Conservation, a non-profit environmental group, which was instrumental in helping farmers get credit for the electricity they send to the grid. Western United Resource Development helped make the grant money available to buy the generator. Williams Engineering Associates designed and managed the project.

"This is one more step towards my goal of having our farm become completely self-sufficient in energy, with minimal environmental impact," Albert Straus stated.

This methane digester is a model solution for one of the greater challenges of the dairy industry.

"The Straus Dairy has again demonstrated leadership to the rest of the dairy community by adopting one of the most environmentally beneficial renewable energy technologies," according Allen Dusault of Sustainable Conservation. "It provides a triple win producing cleaner air and water and a new source of renewable energy."

The Straus dairy has been in operation since 1941. Straus Family Creamery just celebrated 10 years of processing and recently introduced their all organic ingredient Super Premium Ice Creams which are available in natural food and specialty stores throughout the western U.S.