The air smells fruity, slightly alcoholic. Against the strong hum of machinery, 175 cows are eating hay. As their dung drops to the slatted floor, a machine sweeps it through and it runs underneath the barn to a futuristic dome outside.
The Heegs’ 75-hectare family farm in remote Friesland, in the north-west of the Netherlands, where cows outnumber people almost two to one, marks the start of a national experiment to encourage farms to turn their manure into biogas.
The process is simple: the dung is broken down by bacteria into biogas in an anaerobic digester. Other machines then extract nitrates and phosphates to make fertiliser, leaving organic matter, which is spread on the Heegs’ farm.
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