Vegan Electricity? Company Offers Green Alternative to Energy Made From Animal Byproducts

Animal products could lurk in electricity, one British power company warns—and to give consumers a choice, it's offering what it calls the world's first vegan electricity.

Ecotricity, a renewable energy provider in the U.K., announced its electricity and gas would be certified vegan after it claimed half of British homes are powered by electricity made from animal byproducts. Company founder Dale Vince accused companies that consider themselves "ethical" or "green" of keeping consumers in the dark about their "secret ingredient."

"We need clear labeling of energy sourcing so that people can make informed choices," he said in a statement.

The company offers "vegan energy" in wind and solar power, and it's developing "sea power" produced by wave oscillation and marine currents. None of Ecotricity's electrical sources contain animal byproducts that the company knew of before it made the announcement, but it registered with the Vegan Society to certify its green status.

Though not widely disclosed, it's fairly common for power companies to derive electricity from animals through anaerobic digestion. In the process, facilities heat animal manure, which produces methane gas then used to fuel generators and create electricity, according to Dairyland Power Cooperative, a Midwestern electricity provider.

Animal waste is generally considered a clean, renewable energy source. Turning manure into fuel eliminates a sizeable chunk of carbon pollution and lessens power companies' reliance on "dirtier" fossil fuels like coal and oil. Plus, animals provide a limitless supply of waste, while Earth's natural gas stores are finite, so frackers wouldn't need to drill into rock to extract it.

Cows are pictured at a Wagyu cattle breeding center in June in Petit-Mars, France. A U.K. energy company announced the first "vegan electricity" after warning consumers about animal byproducts in energy production. (Photo by Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

After anaerobic digestion, farmers can use the liquid remains of the manure as fertilizer and make chips for animal bedding from the solid leftovers, chemical engineer David Simakov told Popular Science.

"We are talking about producing the amount of renewable natural gas enough to heat thousands of homes from just a single large landfill site," he said. "We need to stop pumping carbon from underground into the atmosphere and start caring about introducing more and more renewable energy to make our lives more sustainable.

Renewable energy only accounts for 11 percent of energy consumption in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. Fossil fuels and nuclear energy generate more than 80 percent of the country's electricity, and that's unlikely to change: like other clean energy sources, anaerobic digestion is still more expensive than traditional sources of energy.