Apocalypse Cow

No, this is not a movie by Francis Ford Noppola. This is real.


This sympathetic animal, grazing peacefully somewhere on the green Austrian landscapes, is pointed out by the IPCC [ref: Climate Change 2014] as a significant methane producer. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Ranked second after carbon dioxide in terms of emission volume, its warm-up effect over a century would be 28 times worse than CO2, compared by mass.

The CH4 concentration in the atmosphere has steadied two decades long until a new increase observed since 2007. Environmental policies take this methane problem seriously since 2008. The best case scenario limits the temperature rise in the atmosphere by 2 degrees, and the-most-likely-case-to-happen is plus 3 degrees Celsius over one century. The sea level rise would be respectively 0,4 and 0,6 meters over the same duration. Knowing that, imagine you live on the Maldives islands, with an average 1,5m elevation above sea level.

Well, simply putting the blame this noble animal would be a little bit easy. And a little bit wrong. She is the result of our needs in milk and meat - and we are a fast growing population with always more demanding life standards and high-tempo activities. So, it is our fault isn't it?




Combustion Bay One started the MethaNull program in 2012. The ambition is to develop portable technologies that prevent methane to dissolve in the atmosphere everywhere where possible. One of our first results to be published in a few months states that it is feasible to dispose of highly diluted methane gas at much lower costs than conventional.

The first idea is basically to gather the methane than can be gathered, and to flare it off. By doing so, there is less air pollution, less odour, more security, and the trouble with the greenhouse effect is divided by 10, compared with the CO2 it generates. So basically flaring is the first thing to be done.

Of course, since methane is a fuel, it would be perfect to make use of the energy, or to condition it so that it could be used in a remote place. At Combustion Bay One, we are working on this aspect too.

We have a small story to tell about that subject. Two years ago we were invited to dimension a 2MW thermal power plant firing biogas. We came out with a facility designed for 20 years operation, and 10 years amortisation, based on a kWh price of 70 eurocents. It was pointed out that we were about 20 times above the stock energy price. And even with the best will and efforts, there were little chances to change this fact. The facility was never built, and the gas flare can be seen during the night as a bright spot by our satellites, glowing somewhere in the Austrian pampa. A flame-decorated monument, another torch dedicated to the least human effort versus the worsening of atmospheric conditions. Halleluiah.

If we let the economics drive us this way, then my very last post on this site might be called "Apocalyse Dow"...

I am thinking about the lectures in physics of Professor Marie, looking back in the 90's in Nancy as I was sitting on the banks of my engineering school. He was a scholar and a literate who liked to punctuate here and there the lecture with philosophical thoughts, or with quotes by James Joyce. Once when discussing about the potential of thermonuclear fusion, he asked aloud "What is the outcome of humanity when energy will cost nothing at all? Are we finally getting towards an ideal society of culture?".

Well dear Professor, you hit my mind on that day. We nearly got there. Energy decentralisation works. Wind, geothermie and solar have already become reality. Fusion, wait and see. The energetic transition appears to be feasible, and it is good so. The effects on the energy prices are dramatic, as it can be observed in places like Germany. To your question, a slightly provocative and nevertheless true answer pops up in my mind. <<Well, Professor, among others we will still have to handle this small problem about cowpats...>> :)

So yes, our better use of methane emissions of bio-origin is within reach. This is possible with new policies, with common sense and with a little bit of good will. This is before all possible with better combustion technologies.

This is why MethaNull was started, and this is why MethaNull will go on.