How This Organic Dairy Farmer Powers His Truck With Cow Waste

A Californian dairy farmer has figured out a way to turn a diesel truck electric so it can run off power generated by cow manure.


May 26 2019, Updated 7:28 p.m. ET

A Californian dairy farmer has figured out a way to run his electric truck off power acquired from cattle waste. Albert Straus of Straus Family Creamery spent eight years working with a local mechanic to figure out how to convert a 33,000-pound International Harvester semi truck into an electric hauler, the batteries for which receive their charge from methane-generated electricity.

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Turning methane to electricity requires a reimagining of the power of poop. 

The Straus Family Creamery has been tapping alternative energy for years, with a biodigester that since 2004 has been turning organic waste like cow manure into energy.    

Liquid cow manure goes into the biodigester and becomes biogas. The creamery captures around 9.2 million cubic feet of biogas every year, preventing about 1,645 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. From there, the digester turns the biogas into electricity that provides enough power for the 500-acre farm—the equivalent of taking 347 cars off the road.

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"What I've tried to do is create a sustainable organic farming model that is good for the earth, the soil, the animals, and the people working on these farms, and helps revitalize rural communities," Straus said in a prepared statement

The generator makes around 28,800 kilowatts of clean energy every month and is used to for everything from heating water to charging the electric Nissan Leaf and Toyota RAV4 on the property. Straus estimates the system cost more than $330,000—a number the creamery saw a return on after just four years of use. Now, the biodigester saves the farm around $50,000 a year in utilities. 

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The semi-truck is the newest addition to the electric fleet, and is used to mix and move feed for the 300 dairy cows at the Straus Family Creamery. Recharging the truck instead of filling it with diesel fuel keeps about 18 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from diesel fuel out of the air. All it took was a pivot on how we think about feces.

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In the natural world, there is no such thing as waste. 

In the natural world, the concept of waste doesn’t exist. Everything is used and returned to the planet. Humans are the only creatures to not behave in this way; making things that poison waterways and pollute the ground. How we deal with excrement—human or animal—is symbolic of this. Instead of using waste, we flush it away to a septic or sewage treatment site. 

Dairy farms are notorious for producing major greenhouse emissions—in California, dairy cattle account for a full quarter of the state’s methane emissions. That kind of volume can either be a burdensome pollutant and health risk, or economic (and environmental) breakthrough waiting to happen. 

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Harnessing the literal power of poop has earned the Strauss Family Creamery the distinction of being the first farm to use a full-scale electric feed truck powered entirely by cow dung.

"My electric feed truck is not only a practical tool for my organic farm,” Straus said in a prepared statement. “It is also a symbol of the resourcefulness we need to fight climate change, which threatens our business and the future of American farming." 

And he’s not done yet. Rumor has it that Straus is working on an all-electric farmers market truck to take organic dairy items to markets throughout the Bay Area. 

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