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    Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight

    Originally posted by Nichola Groom | Reuters | Original Article

    PIXLEY, Calif. (Reuters) - Joey Airoso has always been proud of his cows, whose milk goes into the butter sold by national dairy company Land O'Lakes. Now he has something new to brag about: the vast amounts of gas produced by his 2,900-head herd is powering truck fleets, homes and factories across the state of California.

    "It's pretty incredible if you think about it," Airoso said during a recent tour of his 1,500-acre (607-hectare) farm, as a stream of watered-down manure flowed from cow sheds into a nearby pit. There the slurry releases methane that is captured and eventually piped into fueling stations and buildings.

    Airoso is tapping into a growing market among U.S. utilities for so-called renewable natural gas, or biomethane, that is being driven by the fight against climate change.

    For farmers, it is a way to get ahead of a wave of greenhouse gas regulation and make a bit of cash at the same time. And for utilities that buy or transport the gas, it is a way to respond to the increasing demands of customers and lawmakers to cut their reliance on fossil fuels.

    "It is not something very many people are aware of yet, but it makes sense once it’s explained," said Emily O'Connell, director of energy markets policy at the American Gas Association, the trade group for gas utilities.

    Renewable natural gas can come from manure, landfills or wastewater and is interchangeable with gas drilled out of the ground. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring significant volumes of methane, that would have been produced anyway, never reach the atmosphere. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it escapes into the air unburned.

    Nationwide, more than a dozen utilities have started developing renewable natural gas production through partnerships with farmers, wastewater treatment plants and landfill operators, while nine have proposed price premiums for customers who choose it as a fuel, according to the American Gas Association. Renewable natural gas is currently between four and seven times more expensive to produce than fossil gas, a gap that its proponents hope will narrow as the fuel becomes more widely used. 

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