Methane digester on Straus ranch to balance emissions from BMW's electric cars


Cow-powered cars? Albert Straus, the founder of Straus Family Creamery, plans to make this a near reality through a new partnership with the auto industry. Mr. Straus has operated a methane biodigester since 2004 on the Straus ranch in Marshall, converting cow manure into electrical power and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1,600 metric tons annually. Mr. Straus now intends to feed that energy into the grid to match the use by electric cars sold by the BMW Group. The two companies together applied to participate in the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard’s program, which allows fuel providers to lower emissions by purchasing credits. The state program could generate five to 10 times more revenue for the dairy farm than a standard agreement with a utility buyer. The increased revenue is a key part of Mr. Straus’s vision for helping local ranchers purchase and operate methane digesters, which can cost as much as $2 million; if the collaboration proves successful, he said, it will demonstrate how similar partnerships can provide a quick return on investments. Mr. Straus also plans to leverage the monies for innovation: he is developing a new type of methane digester—faster, less costly, and better tailored to ranches with fewer cows. Joseph Button, the creamery's director of sustainability, said the partnership could help reach statewide methane emission reduction goals. Dairy manure accounts for about a quarter of California’s methane emissions. “This is a neat story because it allows us to accomplish our really big climate goals by addressing two of the biggest sources of emissions in the world at the same time, allowing BMW to keep transforming the carbon intensity of the transportation sector,” he said. Adam Langton, the energy services manager for the BMW Group, which owns BMW, Rolls-Royce and several other brands, said an important aspect of the group’s sustainability program is feeding the grid with the same amount of renewable energy as is needed to power the electric vehicles it puts on the road. His hope is that eventually all of the group’s electric cars in California would be powered by dairy farms. “It’s an aspiration at this point, but if it works with Albert’s farm, we want to scale it up and see if we could get to 100 percent,” he said. Mr. Langton said the credits the farm produces will likely be considered “negative,” winning more credits than other renewable sources do for each unit of energy.