BMW's plans to offset EV emissions with cow dung could be greenwashing

The practice is incentivised but is it eco-friendly?
Loukia Papadopoulos
Cow dung is used for biogas.jpg
Cow dung is used for biogas.


In the last ten years, biogas energy derived from animal waste has served as an additional income for dairy farmers. This is because methane digesters have become a popular option with automakers like BMW that use them to charge their electric vehicles with more eco-friendly options and offset their emissions. 

However, many claim these efforts are just “greenwashing” as they generate the same environmental impact as fossil fuels, according to an article published by electrek on Friday.

Making an unsupported claim in order to trick customers into thinking a company's products are ecologically beneficial is known as "greenwashing."

According to the report, the Union of Concerned Scientists had this to say about the dairy farmers’ efforts:

“We recognize that the capture and productive use of waste biomethane generated by anaerobic digestion (AD) from manure lagoons is a useful mechanism to mitigate methane pollution and can also replace a small amount of fossil methane use in energy and industrial applications.”

California even has an incentive program introduced in 2011 called the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) which rewards dairy farmers for converting their methane into energy that can then be sold to other companies.

But the system is not without flaws as it awards credits to farmers at a much higher magnitude than the cost to operate and maintain a methane digester. 

Last April of 2021, BMW Group entered a new deal and became the first automaker to begin collaborating with dairy farms in California to offset the charging carbon emissions from its EVs.

BMW North America’s energy services Manager, connected eMobility, Adam Langton, said at the time:

“Dairy biodigesters are an example of an energy technology that not only reduces carbon emissions in a sustainable way but also offers a new revenue stream to farmers and their communities.

"In the future, we hope to use this collaborative model we have created in California to support more biodigester development in the US and ultimately bring more clean energy sources to our customers," he added.

Greenwashing abounds

But greenwashing is prevalent throughout all these efforts.

A 2021 analysis by Aaron Smith, professor of agricultural economics at UC Davis, found that LCFS credits generate a subsidy of $1,935 a year per cow.

The Union of Concerned Scientists further argued that subsidies in the LCFS vastly eclipse the cost of producing the methane gas, giving a clear advantage to the most pollutive dairy farms.

It’s clear here that all involved in the LCFS were trying to do a good thing: offset polluting emissions, according to the electrek report.

However, what they have likely managed to do is give a nod of approval to companies like BMW and make them feel they are being eco-conscious when in fact, they are just greenwashing.

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