So long, solar. The latest buzzword in energy circles is ethanol, the grain alcohol that can make cleaner-burning car fuel. Created from renewable sources like corn and switch grass, ethanol is being hyped as an antidote to America’s foreign-oil addiction, and companies are scrambling to find an economical, energy-efficient way to produce it. Todd W. Carter, the president of Dallas-based Panda Energy, says he’s got the answer: bovine-produced biomass. Sound like ca-ca? More like ca-ching.

Todd’s father, Robert, is the CEO of Panda, an electric and emerging energy power company that recently hopped on the ethanol bandwagon. He’s the one who suggested burning biomass—yes, cow manure—to power their production plants. “When we went to our engineers with the idea, they picked themselves off the floor and said, ‘You want to do what?’” Todd says. But it worked. The only hitch? They needed somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion pounds of manure a year.
Enter Hereford, Texas, the tiny panhandle town Carter dubs the “Saudi Arabia of manure.” It’s the ideal site for this one-of-a-kind patty-powered project; local ranchers pay $250,000 to $500,000 annually to export manure to farms. Nevertheless, Panda executives struggled to win the cattlemen over with their unconventional concept.

“I was skeptical about their process ’cause we’ve heard far-fetched ideas about using manure before,” says rancher Johnny Trotter. “But if they can make it work, it will be wonderful.”
Carter is confident they can. Panda has already committed to building four duplicate plants in other states. Carter says the Hereford plant, scheduled for operation by mid-2007, will create 60 jobs, produce 100 million gallons of ethanol annually, and, hopefully, turn manure into moolah.