Argentine scientists have finally discovered millions of tiny gas fields -- not by drilling thousands of feet below ground but simply by inserting a small tube into a cow's digestive track! Unlike other gas fields, the newly found gas reserves are renewable and more environment friendly! The discovered gas is methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, and can be used as fuel.
A cow's digestive system produces huge quantities methane through a process known as microbial fermentation. This gas is normally vented out through belching (burping) and flatulence (farting). Estimates vary regarding how much methane an average dairy cow expels. Some experts say 100 liters to 200 liters a day while others say it is up to 500 liters. By the way, it can also be explosive. Methane gas from 90 flatulent cows recently exploded in a German farm-shed damaging its roof and injuring one animal.
If released into the atmosphere, methane adds to the greenhouse gases. Cows are believed to be the biggest producers of methane, amounting to about 25% of the total global production. It may be noted that its contribution to global warming is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. For this reason, the Obama administration has proposed cutting methane emissions from the dairy industry by 25% by 2020.
The Argentine scientists came up with a unique solution to kill two birds with one stone. They plan to collect the gas from the cows to reduce global warming and use it as fuel at the same time. The combustion of methane will produce carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, but its contribution to global warming is much less effective than methane, as stated earlier. The scientists believe cow-backpacks (or 'fartpacks') can be used to trap the methane gas through tubes inserted into their digestive tracks and extract 300 litres of methane a day from one cow. It should be enough to run a car for 24 hours!
The technology has been under development at the National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA) for a number of years and is still at “proof-of-concept stage”. The world has 1.5 billion cows (55 million in Argentina alone) and billions of other grazing animals. If the experiments at the INTA prove to be successful, imagine how much methane can be extracted from the planet's cattle heads to supplement the global fossil energy resources and how much it will contribute to the reduction of global warming.
Good luck to Argentine scientists! I wonder if our scientists will follow suit. We have a cattle population of 23 million. Is it not worth trying?
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.