What Is Dairy’s Surprising Tie to Renewable Energy?

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  • November 12, 2020

This story originally appeared on Vox.

Guess what? The U.S. dairy industry is committing to achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050.*

If you think that’s a big goal, that’s because it is: Every time a cow belches or poops, it comes with a release of methane, a greenhouse gas. So, in order to help hit that 2050 GHG neutrality goal, the U.S. dairy industry uses “cow power,” among other sustainable practices like manure management, as a way toward a greener planet. Cow power is the conversion of methane into usable energy called biogas that can supplement electric power for entire communities. Here’s how it works.

Dairy farmers start by feeding their dairy cows a diet that reduces methane, consisting of ingredients like oil seed, almond hulls and spent grain. By using these byproducts that come from plant-based agriculture, dairy farmers are minimizing food waste from landfills and reducing overall methane emissions. After that, some farmers use a biodigester to break down cow waste and capture energy from the manure. That biogas can be used for electricity, heat, compressed natural gas and even vehicle fuel.

Cow power is one important step, but it’s not the only thing the dairy industry is committing to for a more sustainable future. According to The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the industry’s sustainability goals are on target to advance dairy’s role in building a sustainable future by:

  1. Achieving GHG neutrality or better by 2050 using today’s science and sustainable innovations.
  2. Optimizing water use to account for regional differences in sourcing as well as maximizing water recycling.
  3. Improving water quality to increase soil health by using nutrient-rich manure that dairy cows produce via their methane-reduced diet and four-chambered stomach.

For more, head to Vox to learn how dairy’s environmental and sustainability practices have already made a major impact.

*In October 2021, the wording of the goal was clarified to reflect the intent of the work and U.S. dairy’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.