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Factory Farm Manure Energy Is a Very Shitty Idea, New Paper Says

"A real clean agricultural revolution would include only 100 percent clean and renewable energies and not methane-producing, smog-forming biogas."

A piglet looks out from its enclosure. (Photo: Kevin/flickr/cc)

A manure-to-energy scheme to produce "biogas" is, contrary to its proponents' claims, an avenue to incentivize destruction of the environment, communities, and the climate while propping up Big Ag.

That's the thrust of a new issue brief from advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

Released Wednesday and entitled "Biogas From Factory Farm Waste Has No Place in a Clean Energy Future," the publication details how the process works, why each step is problematic, and where's it's already been used—and failed—all of which adds up to biogas being a false solution to the climate crisis.

"Burning animal poop under the ruse of 'clean energy' is a dirty deal for big companies that want to build more and more factory farms and pipelines to grow their stronghold on our agriculture," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, in a statemnt.

"A real clean agricultural revolution," she said, "would include only 100 percent clean and renewable energies and not methane-producing, smog-forming biogas."

Obtaining biogas relies on a "digester," a space where matter is broken down through anaerobic digestion. Left behind are gases, including methane and carbon dioxide. Proponents say that the vast mounts of manure produced on factory farms can be converted in this way, rather than flowing into giant, stinking manure lagoons.

But, the paper says, capturing biogas from factory farm manure just entrenches the existence of the methane-producing factories where animals are packed in cruel and unsanitary conditions.

Just look at what Smithfield is doing, the paper says.

The meat giant "not only plans to push the U.S. factory farms that raise their animals to construct digesters, but also intends on building new factory farms specifically to tap into the potential to generate biogas."

The papers also notes that "the creation of even more dirty natural gas through anaerbogic digestion at large factory farms will do nothing for independent family-scale farms because digesters require such large quantities of manure. This amount of manure can only be produced on farms that confine thousands of animals." Biogas is also not clean, the paper says, as burning it release co2 and other pollutants.

"Additionally, biogas is composed of roughly 50-70 percent methane, 30-45 percent carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases. Biomethane typically contains more than 95 percent methane," the paper notes. "Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, nearly 90 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period."

Heaping on to the list of problems is that the non-gas byproduct known as digestate emits methane while it's in open tanks, and the digesters themselves can leak or even explode. Even that that doesn't happen, the gas must be transported by disruptive pipelines.

The paper points to other Europe based research that tallied over 200 accidents linked to "increased digester development" that caused worker injuries. It also references data that showed a U.K. farm had two digester spills in which toxic sludge spewed out and killed dozens of farm animals.

The problems go on.

Factory farms disproportionately impact communities of color, befouling them with noise and air pollution. And turning to biogas will do thing to stop those issues.

There are the emissions and other pollution that occur before the digestion process, the paper says, Also, "biogas construction and production will bring its own pollutants and emissions--from the exhaust generated from the use of heavy equipment and vehicles, to the potential odors that will come with the transport of manure and other material used for digestion."

In the U.S, the reports says there are close to 300 of these digesters under construction or already in use. The USDA has already poured $10 million into their research or use.

In a companion blog post, Food & Water Watch factory farm campaigner Krissy Kasserman writes that this greenwashed approach to energy should be stopped in tis tracks.

"If you live in a state where biogas is being developed, contact your elected officials to explain why we need an urgent shift to truly renewable energy. And join us as we work to ban factory farms. "

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