Daily Video

March 31, 2016

Colorado explores new, stinky source of alternative energy

Essential question

How can we best protect the environment?

In Colorado, a growing industry relies on human and animal waste as a new source of renewable energy.

Using a machine called a digester, waste treatment plants have been able to extract and refine methane found in human and animal excrement in order to generate power.

“Destructive greenhouse gases that would be escaping into the atmosphere anyway going to good use,” Public Media’s Inside Energy and Rocky Mountain PBS Dan Boyce said.

In order to get the most methane from a digester it’s best to have a mixture of manure and food scraps. As a result, hundreds of restaurants, schools and groceries in Colorado have started to send their food waste to plants like Heartland Biogas facility in Weld County.

“You can think of the digester the same as your own guts,” said Bob Yost of A1 Organics, a company that coordinates the delivery of food waste to the facility.

The gas produced at Heartland goes straight into a pipeline on site for delivery to other parts of the country. Some trucks and buses used to transport food scraps even use natural gas produced from the digesters to help operate their vehicles, instead of relying entirely on diesel gasoline. ​

Key terms

renewable energy – energy from a source that is not exhausted when used, such as wind or solar power

natural gas – gas that is taken from under the ground and used as fuel

methane – a colorless gas that has no smell and that can be burned for fuel

greenhouse gas – a combination of any gaseous compounds, including carbon dioxide, that absorb infrared radiation, trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect

Warm up questions (before watching the video)

1)    What is the greenhouse effect?

2)    Where does most of our energy come from?

3)    What are some sources of renewable energy?

Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)

1)      How do digesters use human and animal waste to make natural gas?

2)      Do you think more truck and bus companies should rely on renewable natural gases that come from wastewater treatment plants? Wy or why not?

3)      What could be done to help cattle farms that are too far from digester facilities and too small to build their own become more sustainable when it comes to manure?

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