The Gas Industry’s Survival Plan: Make Fuel From Cow Poop

Fossil fuel companies think renewable natural gas is the answer to their PR problems. Environmentalists think not.

Polly is a 10-year-old black-and-white Holstein cow, the oldest in a herd of about 300 on the Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, Mass. Together they produce 2,000 gallons of milk each day. They also make enough poop to fill about two garbage trucks. The farm makes money off of both.

In 2014, Bar-Way began working with Vanguard Renewables to install a biodigester, which uses specialized bacteria to convert organic material—for example, cow poop—into biogas, a versatile fuel. Once it’s purified, this biomethane, also known as renewable natural gas (RNG), is chemically identical to the main ingredient in the fossil-based natural gas that comes out of your stove or heats your water.

Renewable Natural Gas Rises

RNG production over time, in million BTUs per day

Data: Bloomberg NEF

“My grandfather always told me that to be successful, you’ve got to use every asset you have to its fullest,” says Peter Melnik, whose family has owned Bar-Way Farm Inc. for 101 years. He won’t disclose how much he’s profited from the arrangement, but he will say it’s made the business “that much more viable.”

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