I'm standing amongst of slew engineers, businessmen, cattleman, and local pols dressed in boots and Stetsons in the Spicer Gripp Memorial Rodeo Arena while Asleep at the Wheel executes an impressive run of fiddle and steel guitar calisthenics. The foam sleeve snuggling my Bud Light reads "Poop 2 Pump. Yep, we're stepping into it." This is Hereford, Texas, a town that is sometimes called the "Town without a toothache" on account of the high fluoride levels in its municipal water supply.
But it's actually the feedlot capital of the world, where some 3 million cattle traipse through annually--making it an aroma capital of sorts too. This hoedown is part of the groundbreaking celebration for Dallas-based Panda Energy International's 100 million gallon ethanol refinery that is being erected in Hereford--an operation that will be powered exclusively by bovine crap, stuff Hereford generates in ungodly amounts and is perpetually vexed with what to do with it all. An executive from Energy Products of Idaho, the company that is engineering the crap-to-refinery power process, says the plant will consume roughly 70 tons of dung per hour, generating some 350 million BTUs. The beauty of it is that the crap is free, so its only associated costs are transport and grinding, whereby the cow pies are reduced to ground beef, if you will, for easy burning.
That's makes for a cost of $1.65 per one million BTUs compared to natural gas, which is about six bucks, if my Bud Light math is correct. That's a helluva savings, and it actually makes the energy and resource intensive process of ethanol production pencil out a lot better (some studies show the process consumes as much or more energy than a gallon of ethanol actually generates).
Ah, but what about the environment? Doesn't burning B.S. generate dreaded CO2? Sure, but left to their own devices, those cow pies would generate massive amounts of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 (you're familiar with the doomsday scenarios surrounding cow farts, no doubt). The process will conservatively save Panda an estimated $11.5 million per year in refinery energy costs, again, if my Bud Light math is correct. Which means there are juicy profits in BS, but you already knew that. --Mark Stuertz