A popular illustrated book, “Everyone Poops”, explains the obvious to our kids, while the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin” has characters spinning straw into gold. Thanks to the global effort to cut carbon, we could soon be spinning waste of all kinds—including poop—into big bucks, but only if lawmakers and environmentalists come to their senses.
Renewable energy is in big demand as states try to cut carbon emissions and more than half now have renewable portfolio standards, RPS, that mandate certain percentages of wind, solar, and geothermal in the total amount of electricity generated. The controversy surrounds what constitutes renewable.
The nuclear industry is claiming the mantle with technology that reprocesses old fuel. The coal industry wants methane from mines to be included and some Energy Dept.programs say hydrogen made from natural gas is a renewable fuel.
Environmental groups and many lawmakers oppose including any of these technologies in RPS laws, but the issue doesn’t stop there. Capturing waste heat from traditional power plants and converting trash into energy are equally controversial under the theory that we should not incentivize waste of any kind and that the only goal should be to eliminate it rather than treat it as renewable.
While I also have concerns about nuclear and coal, energy security and climate change concerns mean that we need much more clean energy ASAP. This means that laws must change for at least some additional renewables, especially those with numerous co-benefits, like poop.
The average cow generates 18 gallons of waste per day. Dairies and feedlots struggle to keep up with that load, limited by weight and volume for disposal options. The result is usually dumping the sewage into ponds that leak into ground water and generate vast amounts of greenhouse gases.
Converting that resource into energy and fertilizer has been stymied in many states by opposition to giving it the “renewable” label, although using it more productively would certainly renew water supply, air quality, and our climate.