On October 19th, 2017 we learned about

Frozen pee may be a practical reference point in our future search for life on Enceladus

In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft captured images of plumes of icy water erupting from Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Subsequent flybys and sampling have suggested that this moon may be habitable by some form of life in its sub-surface ocean, thanks to geological heating. However, this is all inconclusive at this point, because Cassini wasn’t designed to tackle this kind of mission. Even when the spacecraft was flown through the moon’s icy geysers, it could only sample a limited portion of the ejected slush, since the probe could only detect one size of ice grain at a time. Now that Cassini has been crashed into Saturn, researchers are hoping to get another probe to Enceladus, but they need to make sure it’s ready for the job, and that means developing a better understanding of frozen water when it’s flushed into space.

In better tailor sensors for the icy ejecta of Enceladus, engineers would like experiment with, or at least observe, water as it flows into the cold vacuum of space. Of course, water is heavy and therefore expensive to get off the ground, plus astronauts value it as a way to stay, you know, alive. So rather than fly water up to space only to toss it out, it’s been proposed that we start paying closer attention to how wastewater from astronauts’ toilets as well as fuel cells, behaves when it’s vented from spaceships. Wastewater, or any water, spewed from a small metal tube wouldn’t be a perfect proxy for the vents of Enceladus, but it may be a starting point for measuring what kind if ice crystal distribution should be expected.

Previous work with purged pee

There’s also some precedent for these observations. In 1989, researchers used a telescope in Hawaii to watch as the space shuttle Discovery dumped water from its fuel cells. They couldn’t develop a full 3D model from these observations, but they could at least note that two sizes of ice grain formed. Bigger pieces of ice formed right out of the vent, while smaller grains, probably from recondensed water vapor, formed further away. The space shuttles also ejected liquid waste while on missions, although they made sure to keep the astronauts poop for later disposal back on Earth. Some of this vented liquid was found to form long icicles just outside the vents, suggesting another phenomenon that could be found on Enceladus.

While space shuttles dumped liquids more often, the International Space Station doesn’t quite provide the same opportunities to observe frozen pee. Pee isn’t sprayed into space as much anymore, partially due to the realization that frozen urine ejected from the Mir space station in the late 1980s had been slowly damaging the facility’s solar panels. Instead, most of the astronauts’ pee is cleaned and recycled into drinking water, leaving only the most concentrated, briny, urea to be purged into space. Astronauts’ poop doesn’t get tossed out either, but is instead packaged with other bundles of trash that are dropped into the natural incinerator that is the Earth’s atmosphere.

With these limitations, it’s not clear how much we’ll learn by watching astronaut’s waste water. At the very least, the stuff humans flush can at least provide a basic reference point for what to expect the next time we’re near Enceladus.

Source: Astronaut wee could show us how the plumes on Enceladus work by Leah Crane, New Scientist

On October 12th, 2017 we learned about

Materials and methods that can make a building a bit more fire-proof

With wildfires destroying over 3,500 structures across northern California in the last week, it’s understandable that my kids are feeling concerned about the safety of our own home. Aside from the smoke, we’re well out of harms way, but that hasn’t stopped some age-appropriate brainstorming about fire safety. Maybe force-fields would help? How about everyone using their garden hoses to spray the fires? Why can’t houses just be fire-proof?

Fire-proof, in the 3rd-grade understanding of the term, probably isn’t possible, but houses can be made to be very fire-resistant. Depending on the materials and design of a building, it may be able to withstand up to four hours of intense flames, and even then structural problems might come up before the whole thing actually burns. Basically, the key is to build in materials that can absorb and withstand heat while remaining chemically inert— ie., not actually combusting themselves. From that perspective, the wood frames that hold up so many American homes are sort of a terrible idea, as the wood will both burn and transmit heat to other parts of the structure. Moving away from the idea of a rustic log cabin, we should really all be living in homes made of concrete.

Preventing conflagration with concrete

Concrete frames and walls provide a number of advantages over wood. The limestone, clay and gypsum that go into concrete are very stable, and thus unlikely to react with oxygen and heat during a fire. Instead, a concrete slab can absorb a lot of heat, trapping some of it in internal pockets and pores. This can help isolate the heat from a fire, as well as insulate the building from unpleasant hot and cold temperatures in less dire circumstances. If you want to maximize the impact of your concrete walls, you probably want to install them as insulated concrete forms (ICFs), which are modular systems to further compartmentalize your concrete slabs, keeping the buildup of heat from a fire as isolated as possible.

If a building isn’t concrete, there are other options to up its fire-resistance. Bricks, having been created in kilns, hold up to heat quite well. In a fire, they can absorb heat without being damaged, with the point of failure usually being the mortar that holds a wall together. Gypsum board used in drywall can absorb a fair amount of heat without burning as well, with Type X gypsum boards being packed with calcium sulfate and water vapor inside. When exposed to fire, the water vapor can help suck up a lot of heat before the gypsum has to get cooked too much, all of which will hopefully provide time for the fire to be dealt with. On the outside of your building, common stucco usually has cement, sand and lime as ingredients, which again are inert enough to absorb heat without burning themselves.

Bad and best practices

Even with concrete or brick walls, many buildings still have weaknesses that can make them susceptible to fires. Vinyl siding and framing around windows melts pretty easily, exposing any wood framing underneath. Single pane windows that get broken allow both heat and oxygen to pass into or out of a burning building. If the source of flames is from an external wildfire, roofs are often a point of combustion. Loose shingles or semi-open tile work, can provide openings burning embers to get into a house’s attic. Overhangs are another place where fire-resistant materials are likely to be joined to more combustible wood, exposing the roof to danger even if the walls are otherwise unscathed.

So what should my kids’ theoretical fire-proof house look like then? Starting with the yard, no trees or brush should be too close to the house itself. Instead of a wooden deck, a stone or concrete patio would act as a firebreak, protecting the concrete walls. Tempered glass windows, or maybe glass bricks with an internal wire matrix to avoid cracking, would be further protected by roll-down metal fire doors that could deploy automatically in response to extreme heat. A steeply pitched roof would encourage burning embers to fall to the ground, rather than sitting and burning on the building. Internal walls would be brick or concrete, maybe with gypsum boards if you needed a softer material for some surfaces. It might start to feel a little bit like a fortress, as long as no lava (“Or asteroids!” “Or monsters!”) show up, it should be one of the cozier places to be after a wildfire.

Source: Why is concrete fire resistant? by Colleen Cancio, How Stuff Works

On October 4th, 2017 we learned about

Detailed data helps curtail conflict between forest and owl conservation

The forests of Northern California have presented a puzzle for conservationists. On one hand, there was a need to protect the dwindling spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) population, making sure they had enough trees in which to build their nests and lay their eggs. On the other hand, dry conditions from long-term droughts posed a large fire hazard for both the forest and human developments. To reduce the risk of large-scale fires, there was a push to thin forests by culling smaller trees, but this seemed to then threaten the owls’ nests. Fortunately, actual measurements were made, revealing that this presumed conflict wasn’t such of a problem after all.

Mapping more of the forest

This isn’t to say that people were completely inventing the idea that owls might be living in the same trees that were being targeted for clearing. The long-standing practice has been to survey sections of forests, usually less than an acre in size, then extrapolate that data to build an estimate for the rest of the woods. This limited survey was done for practical purposes, as budgeting more comprehensive studies of 1.2 million acres of Sierra Nevada forests was simply unavailable.

Fortunately, new tools are making more complete surveys easier. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station and the University of Washington teamed up to improve our understanding where spotted owls want to live, and the size and shape of the forest overall. They collected data from past studies about where the owls are known to live, then took new measurements of those locations with LiDAR, which is essentially a form of sonar with lasers instead of sound. From a plane flying over the parks, 3D representations of each tree heights and density could be measured and compared with other data. Comparing these measurements of the trees against owl locations revealed an exciting pattern in which trees the owls actually frequented.

Spotted owls’ narrow nesting range

As it turns out, the owls don’t really care for the shorter trees that were marked for fire prevention. They’ll sometimes roost in the shorter trees that make up the forest’s understory, but they want a tall tree when it’s time build a nest. The spotted owls were actually rather picky, limiting their nesting to areas with trees that were at least 105 feet tall, but really preferring those that were at least 157 feet tall. Any place that didn’t reach over 52 feet was avoided altogether, which is great news for people concerned with fire safety.

This doesn’t mean that every shorter tree can be cleared out of the forest, but it does provide a clear path forward for forest and wildlife managers. Instead needing to make unfortunate decisions about where our priorities lie, it seems that simply getting a more detailed understanding of the owl’s ecology will allow us to have our birds and fire safety too.

Source: A Win-Win for Spotted Owls and Forest Management by Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News

On September 13th, 2017 we learned about

Fiber-optics under Stanford can feel every car tire and footstep

Every moment has repercussions, a fact my neighbors are no doubt acutely aware of on Saturday mornings when the kids wake up. Every step, thumb and bump not only hits the floor (or wall, or… ceiling), but transmits energy through those materials, much of which we end up noticing as sound. Thankfully, many of these vibrations are either too faint or the wrong frequency to be detected by our ears, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. In fact, if you really wanted to, it turns out that it’s possible to detect and decipher almost every vibration a person’s movement might make— right down to individual footsteps along a busy sidewalk.

Wired for sound

This kind of listening is already underway at Stanford University in a project called the Big Glass Microphone. Three miles of fiber-optic cables have been laid in a loop under part of the campus, originally to investigate seismic activity. Seismographs around the world already rely on vibrations being transmitted through the ground in order to sense and triangulate activity like earthquakes, but the fiber-optics have proven to be especially sensitive. Like more traditional seismographs, the fiber-optics can measure small changes in electrical current as it’s mechanically perturbed by vibrations, but the scale of the vibrations detected provide previously unknown resolution in those readings.

As a foot steps on the ground, a relatively small, low-frequency vibration is transmitted through the sidewalk and dirt. This then hits the fiber-optic cable, which at the length of a hair is small enough to stretch slightly as the vibration passes through. With light running through the cable, these fluctuations are measured, and in most applications, thrown out as background noise that would muddy data on earthquakes or explosions. In this case, engineers are looking the other way, seeing how well they can track footsteps and cars, possibly even identifying the source of those sounds by unique vibration “signatures.”

Uses for more electronic ears

This effectively means that any material that can house a fiber-optic cable could conceivably serve as a mechanical sensor for nearby activity. In the case of a sidewalk or road, it could track the movement of people or specific cars driving by. In a building, vibrations could reveal what floor people are on to trigger changes in lighting and heating, or detect when a pipe is leaking in the wall. Or just track you even more than your phone already does.

The fact that this kind of system isn’t terribly difficult to set up is seen as both a good and a bad thing, depending on how it’s applied. It could be a relatively cheap way to get better data on how traffic operates, or to make buildings more efficient. However, any system that can track people without their knowing it is certainly open to abuse, and so many of the questions surrounding the project are now about when it should be used, rather than just if it could work.

Source: Is the ground beneath the Stanford campus listening to you? by Yasemin Saplakoglu, The Mercury News

On September 7th, 2017 we learned about

Electrifying plant matter for healthier leaves and better power storage

We’re not far off from plugging in our plants. The boundary between organic, leafy greens and metallic electronics is becoming increasingly blurred, although the end result won’t exactly look like a LED grass or an electrified salad (sadly). Still, there’s an impressive range in where plants and electronics are overlapping, starting with some well-roasted leaves that are may soon be recycled into capacitors.

Using leaves to manipulate a current

Appropriate to their names, Chinese phoenix trees are being reborn in fire as highly conductive carbon microspheres. Thankfully, the whole tree doesn’t need to be destroyed in this process, as the carbon is obtained from dead leaves that pile up in autumn. That convenience aside, you probably aren’t going to start getting capacitors out of your yard waste any time soon, as these leaves are dried, powered, heated for 12 hours at 428° Fahrenheit, mixed with potassium hydroxide, then heated again in rapidly changing temperatures up to 1,472°.

It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is a renewable source of highly porous carbon spheres that may pave the way for a variety of plant-based electronic components. The pores create a very high surface area for the tiny pellets, which may even qualify as supercapacitors transferring three times more power than graphene supercapacitors. The phoenix tree leaves work especially well, but researchers are already looking into other plants like potato skins, corn straw, pine wood and rice straw as other sources of conductive carbon.

Measuring the current in leaves

On the flip-side, if you’re looking to produce more foliage instead of electricity, there’s still a reason to wire up a plant’s leaves. Lightweight electrical sensors are being clipped onto leafy crops to measure how well they conduct electricity in differing soil conditions. Once baselines are established, these tiny variances may help measure exactly when a plant is dried out enough to need a drink, reducing a farm’s water usage.

To make these measurements, a small sensor was clipped to leave on different plants for 11 days. As the plants absorbed more or less water, their leaves would swell or shrink at the same time. That tiny change in thickness would then alter the flow of electricity through the leaf enough to be detected, and could then inform a farmer, or automated irrigation system, when plants were really ready for more water, even if the normal watering schedule didn’t sync up. These measurements were compared against a separate sensor in the soil to verify that they were on the right track. The measurements are complicated by the fact that photosynthesis can also change the flow of electricity through a leaf, but researchers are still confident this system will allow farms to be much more sensitive to their stressed plants.

Source: High-Tech Electronics Made From Autumn Leaves, Scienmag

On September 5th, 2017 we learned about

Falconry’s use of flying robots helped an injured raptor return to the wild

Looking at the handmade hoods, leather straps and small bells commonly used in falconry, one might assume that this ancient practice is still stuck thousands of years in the past. For most of us, there’s something archaic about training a raptor to perch on your arm before releasing it to chase down a small bit of prey. While those fleeting moments of drama do capture our attention, they’re only part of the story. The past four thousand years have given falconers plenty of time to develop their “art,” modernizing it to the point of incorporating autonomous flying drones as training tools. As a Canadian gyrfalcon recently found out, these efforts aren’t just for the falconer, but offer benefits to the bird as well.

Training with flying targets

One of the regular training concerns of a falconer is getting their bird to fly high enough to spot prey over a large distance. To get a falcon or hawk habituated to this hunting pattern, falconers have tried attaching bait to strings dangling from balloons or kites, hoping to lure their raptor to higher altitudes. Quadcopter drones improve on this method, since the drone can be more precise in its location and altitude, carry a camera, fly away from the raptor to imitate prey and hold up to the impact of talons a bit better than a balloon. To be on the safe side, some falconers include a parachute in the mix so that the bird and the drone can come down a bit more gently after a successful strike. An additional benefit of this kind of activity is that the birds get more mental stimulation, as well as exercise to keep their flight muscles fit.

Raptor recovery

That last point is where drones can provide therapy to injured raptors. The aforementioned gyrfalcon was found with a slice in its shoulder by a farmer, unable to fly and thus unable to feed itself. The 20-pound bird was taken to a rescue center where its wound could be tended, but that was no guarantee it would ever fully recover. While the cut healed, this female gyrfalcon wasn’t doing any active hunting and it’s muscles atrophied as a result. Fortunately, falconer Steve Schwartze was able to assist, and put the large falcon on a drone-assisted training regime to rebuild the weakened muscles. These workouts started modestly, with the raptor chasing the drone at lower altitudes to get used to moving again. As the falcon improved, the workouts became incrementally demanding, doubling the expected altitude within days.

After four months, the injured raptor was ready for release. She wasn’t necessarily “good as new,” but Schwartze felt that she could at least fly well enough to do some hunting on her own, continuing to strengthen her muscles along the way. It was a lot of work for both parties, but failure would have meant that this gyrfalcon would have probably needed care, and thus captivity, for the rest of her life.


My four-year-old asked: Did the drone fly itself, or was it remote controlled?

It’s not clear how much Schwartze steered the drone, especially since many drones offer both automatic and manual controls. Drones are sold for falconry training offering both options, and presumably advanced users switch back and forth depending on the exact type of flight they’re trying to engage in. The baseline is to automate the drone’s flight, so that may be the more common approach to this training.

My third grader asked: Don’t hawks attack the drones themselves?

The birds go after the feathery bait for the most part, which is suspended on a fishing line away from the drone itself. That’s not to say that the birds can’t handle a drone though, as a Dutch company is training birds of prey to attack drones directly, not for exercise but as security measures. It’s unclear how often those raptors will be deployed, but either way it doesn’t sound like hawks and falcons have any innate concern for quadcopters.

Source: How a falconer and a drone got an injured gyrfalcon back in the skies. by Sarah Hewitt, Motherboard

On August 23rd, 2017 we learned about

Yeast, algae and urine may be astronauts’ best bet for sustenance and supplies on longer trips in space

Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) recently got a welcome, tasty reminder that they operate in low Earth orbit. A batch of 30 Bluebell ice cream cups were delivered on a Dragon resupply capsule, marking the end of the North American summer for people living where there are no seasons. In the future, astronauts traveling further into space, such as to Mars, won’t be able to look forward to such luxuries. Instead, there’s a good chance they’ll have to find ways to enjoy whatever their onboard yeast and algae can make out of their urine.

Recyling, not resupplying

Once a ship gets too far from Earth, astronauts won’t be able to rely on regular care packages the way they can on the ISS. Like hikers trekking deep into the woods, people making the nine-month trip to Mars will need to carry everything they might need with them when they depart. This is tough, since some items essential to nutrition, like omega-3 fatty acids, don’t have a shelf life long enough to make the trip. Growing food in space may be an option to an extent, but as tasty as space lettuce may be, growing a farm’s worth of plants won’t be efficient for a while. Instead, the answer may be to bring some very compact organisms to help do a lot of serious recycling.

Water is already heavily recycled in space, even on the conveniently located ISS. Some toilets on the station are equipped to clean astronauts urine so that potable water can be reclaimed for later use. However, other ingredients in astronaut pee may provide even more utility, such as nitrogen that can be fed to yeast. If some carbon dioxide-scrubbing algae are along for the trip, they can also be fed to the yeast, at which point astronauts will have a biological factory at their disposal to create new products. Those omega-3 fatty acids, for instance, can be created by specific strains of Yarrowia lipolytica yeast raised on algae and nitrogen, ensuring a fresh supply of nutrients for astronauts on long trips.

Producing plastics

Beyond filling astronauts’ nutritional needs, genetically modified yeasts also promise to make raw materials, like polyesters. We normally think of polyester as a component of fabrics, but it may be usable in 3D printers to make other tools and components on demand in space. There are still a number of challenges to be overcome, such as the currently-impractical volume of yeast needed to make a small plastic tool, but the hope is that these methods will be refined in the near future.

There’s still no word on a urine-fed yeast that can make ice cream for future space travelers, but don’t despair if you really wanted some truly authentic astronaut ice cream. People are already working with yeasts to make dairy proteins without cows here on Earth, so version raised on algae and urine shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.

Source: Space savers: astronaut urine could make supplies from nutrients to tools by Nicola Davis, The Guardian

On August 20th, 2017 we learned about

Digital farming tools simulate a full season’s growth in a single day

Humans have been manipulating the evolution of plants for ages, but usually at a pace slow enough we barely notice. By planting seeds from specific plants that had attributes we liked more than others, say a more pleasing color, or larger amount of tasty flesh, we’ve transformed many plants into the produce we know today. However, this is a slow process, and farmers are looking for ways to speed things up while reducing the costs associated with experimenting with a whole season’s crops. The solution may be to first grow crops on a in silico, or “in silicon chips,” before ever putting a seed in the ground.

The simulations that are being developed allow for some very specific details to be tested. For instance, will you get a bigger crop yield if you plant your sugarcane in staggered rows, or all lined up? Should they be angled north-south, or east-west? A farmer could plant four different fields of sugarcane to see which did best, although in doing so they might introduce new variables to the mix. It would also be a slow process, possibly risking income for 12 months of work.

The in silico version took all the available data and came up with a prediction in 24 hours. It considered minutiae down to the amount of light that might be blocked by a neighboring plant’s leaves at different times of the day, then produced a 3D visualization to show the expected outcome of each field arrangement.  In this case, staggered plants planted on a north-south axis was predicted to increase yields by ten percent, making that a much safer test to run in the real world for confirmation.

Farming experiments made even faster

As these tools are developed, researchers hope that the speed and depth of the simulations can be improved. Not everyone can tie up a supercomputer for 24 hours to test out a new technique, and the goal is to eventually simulate a whole season’s growth in a minute, making it easier to try out different variables. The number of variables should also be increased to incorporate more data that different labs have been creating over the past decades, but that requires some serious coordination efforts. Not every research team uses the same tools or data structure to archive their experimental findings, which makes integrating existing information about crops difficult.

Still, the developers are confident that all these challenges can be met, partially because they have to. Concerns over population, soil quality and fresh-water availability suggest that farms will need to be more efficient than ever in the coming years. A tool that lets you configure and simulate new ideas in a single afternoon could save everyone a lot of time and resources.

Source: Growing Virtual Plants Could Help Farmers Boost Their Crops by Leslie Nemo, Scientific American

On August 13th, 2017 we learned about

Automated image analysis set to track birds and bats near wind turbines

The outer tip of a wind turbine can move at 180 miles-per-hour. This is slower than a peregrine falcon when it dives, but much faster than the fastest birds (and bats) and move when flying horizontally. It’s a big concern, as flying animals have a bad habit of flying into moving turbines, leading to as many as 320,000 deaths a year. The speed of the blades isn’t the only worry, as stationary buildings also kill hundreds of millions of birds a year. That said, the novelty and expansion of wind-power has people actively looking for ways to reduce animal fatalities, even in the darkness of night.

To reduce the number of animal deaths from spinning turbines, one strategy is to try to deactivate the blades before animals are nearby. Radar is employed to search for flocks of birds, but that doesn’t help smaller groups or single birds. In extreme cases, protected species like the California condor actually wears tracking equipment to provide early warning to the turbine so that it can be turned off as the bird approaches. That’s not practical for every bird or bat in the sky though, and so research is being done to figure out more widely applicable technologies to get stop the turbine blades when necessary.

Vigilance with video

It turns out that some high-tech bird watching is looking very promising. Cameras with thermal imaging, or “night vision” are being augmented with ThermalTracker software to more accurately detect where animals might be flying. The complete package can then look out for birds and bats 24 hours a day, especially in shoreline areas that are harder for people to survey.  The actual observations are carried out by an algorithm that analyzes the movement of an animal’s wings and flight path to determine what kind of animal it is. Tests have found that this system can detect 81 percent of flying birds and bats, correctly classifying them 82 percent of the time.

Expanding this foundation, there are plans to add further sophistication to this system. Software will be refined so that analysis of the video can happen in real time, allowing recordings to be paused when no animal is in the sky. This should reduce costs, making this kind of tracking more accessible to wind farms everywhere. There are also plans to add second cameras, enabling stereoscopic comparisons of the sky. This enhancement would let the system estimate the animal’s distance more accurately, allowing for better judgments of the creature’s size and species. And thanks to the night-vision thermal imaging, it all works in various lighting conditions.

Searching for better sites

All this collected data can then be used to better inform turbine management, giving people a better picture of what species are active in a specific area. This can be crucial, as poorly-selected wind farm locations are actually thought to be the biggest cause of animal fatalities. Not all patches of the sky are equally trafficked, and so knowing who lives in the neighborhood can make a significant impact on conservation efforts.

Source: Night Vision For Bird- & Bat-Friendly Offshore Wind Power by Frances White, Phys.org

On August 13th, 2017 we learned about

Cow pie biogases now provide fuel for farm’s giant feed truck

The average dairy cow produces around 40,000 pounds of manure a year, most of which doesn’t just disappear into thin air. As a cow pie decomposes, some of that solid waste does become a gas, the most notorious of which is methane. Even though you can’t see all that CH4, it makes a big difference to the world since it traps 23 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, methane doesn’t need to simply waft away, and farms are now using their cow poop to power everything from buildings to the very feed trucks that carry food to cows in the first place.

Prepping poop for generating power

Unfortunately, you can’t just scoop some poop into a gas tank and be on your way. Cow poop is made of a variety of materials which need to be separated so they can be used more efficiently, not totally unlike the refinement processes for crude oil. To make the most of their manure, farms have to invest in a huge container called a digester. The digester helps maintain an optimal temperature for poop to break down, and conveniently contains the unpleasant “barnyard aromas” at the same time. The products of digestion are fibrous materials that can be used as cow bedding or other products, potent liquid fertilizer, and assorted “biogases,” including methane.

Methane burns easily, which is why it’s the primary component of natural gas. Burned in combustion generator, plenty of electricity can be harvested to power farms, trucks, and even surrounding communities. Again, the methane doesn’t simply vanish into thin air though, and burning methane does create carbon dioxide as one of it’s by-products. Still, since carbon dioxide isn’t as potent a greenhouse gas as methane, most people consider this a win. It doesn’t hurt if farms can be more self-sustaining either.

Dung-fueled driving

The amount of power than can be generated from reused cow poop is significant enough that many farms are looking to expand their capacity. Farmers that have made the investment to set up one digester are often interested in setting up a second. The Straus Family Creamery in California took a different approach, and invested in a lengthy retrofitting project with their International Harvester feed truck. After eight years of work, they converted the diesel truck into a zero-emissions electric vehicle so that it could be powered by their poop-fueled generator. Apparently the creamery feels their cows’ poop can provide even more, and they plan to power a delivery truck with methane-produced electricity in the near future.

Source: Poop-Powered Electric Feed Truck Debuts at Northern California Creamery by Tiffany Camhi, The California Report