How to Use Cow Manure for Sustainable Biogas Production

How to Use Cow Manure for Sustainable Biogas Production

How to Use Cow Manure for Sustainable Biogas Production


Cow manure can be a great resource for producing biogas in a sustainable way. Biogas is a renewable energy source that is generated through the breakdown of organic matter like manure in an oxygen-free environment. The methane-rich gas produced can be used for heating, electricity generation and even as a vehicle fuel. Using cow manure specifically brings environmental and economic benefits compared to other feedstocks. In this article, I will provide a comprehensive guide on how to effectively use cow manure for biogas production.

Benefits of Using Cow Manure for Biogas

There are several advantages to using cow manure for biogas production:

Renewable and Sustainable

  • Cow manure is a renewable resource that can be collected regularly from dairy farms. This provides a consistent and reliable feedstock for biogas production.

  • Converting manure into biogas prevents methane emissions from untreated manure. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

  • Overall, using manure is more sustainable than crops grown specifically for biogas which require land, water and other inputs.

High Methane Yield

  • Cow manure has a high methane yield compared to other manures. Expect yields of 20-25 m3 of methane per ton of volatile solids.

  • The high organic content and nutrients in cow manure are excellent for methane-producing bacteria to thrive.

Better Economics

  • Collecting manure is cheaper than growing crops for biogas feedstocks. No costs for seeds, fertilizers, irrigation etc.

  • Avoids manure disposal costs for dairy farms. Manure management is a major expenditure for cattle operations.

  • Produces biofertilizer as a byproduct which can be used to offset crop fertilizer purchases.

Key Factors for Biogas Production

To optimize biogas production from cow manure, there are some key factors to consider:

Manure Composition

  • Fiber content – Higher fiber means more slowly biodegradable material. Needs longer retention time in digesters.

  • Volatile solids – Measure of organics. VS determines methane potential. Fresh manure is ~20% VS.

  • C:N ratio – Carbon to nitrogen ratio should be 20-30:1. If too high, add nitrogen source like food waste.

Pre-Treatment Methods

  • Solid-liquid separation – Separating solids from liquids improves handling and digestion. Solids may need disintegration.

  • Temperature control – Heating manure before digestion helps accelerate biogas production.

  • Mixing with cosubstrates – Adding food waste, agricultural residues etc improves C:N ratio and biogas yield.

Digester Conditions

  • Hydraulic retention time – 25-30 days needed for manure at mesophilic temperatures (30-38°C).

  • Loading rate – Optimal is 2-3 kg volatile solids/m3/day. Higher risks digester instability.

  • Temperature – Mesophilic or thermophilic temperatures preferred. Thermophilic has faster reaction rates.

  • pH – Neutral pH around 7.0 needed. Monitor and adjust if needed with chemicals or buffers.

Digester Design Considerations

The digester design should be matched to the scale of production desired:

  • Small-scale – Fixed dome or floating drum designs, masonry or concrete construction. Batch loaded.

  • Large-scale – Concrete tank reactors with mechanical mixing. Continuous loading.

  • Temperature control system – Heating or cooling equipment needed to maintain optimal temperatures.

  • Gas collection and storage – Pipes and gas holders to collect and store biogas. Removes H2S.

  • Effluent management – Solid-liquid separation and storage or treatment of digestate.

Case Study: Dairy Farm in Vermont

Pleasant Valley Farm in Vermont installed a 130 kW biogas plant utilizing cow manure in 2010. Key facts:

  • Feedstock – Manure from 850 milking cows. ~36 cubic meters/day.

  • Biodigester – Mixed plug-flow type. 20 days retention time.

  • Heating loops maintain 35°C temperature.

  • Biogas powers boiler to heat farm buildings and hot water.

  • Electricity fed into grid powers ~150 homes.

  • Reduced daily trucking of manure from 6-8 to 1-2 trucks.

This case demonstrates that a well-designed and operated biogas plant can provide sustainable energy and environmental benefits.


Cow manure has excellent potential as a feedstock for biogas production. By optimizing manure composition, digester conditions and system design, high methane yields can be achieved. This provides renewable energy and reduces waste and emissions from manure disposal. With proper planning and execution, biogas from cow manure can provide sustainable environmental, energy and economic benefits.