Researchers are reporting that farm manure could be a feasible source of renewable energy. The experts are creating the technology to produce natural gas from manure that could be used to heat homes or to power large industries.
This would not only cut back on harmful greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but would also eliminate harmful gases that are released by manure as it decomposes.
Study co-author David Simakov is a professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
“There are multiple ways we can benefit from this single approach,” said Simakov. “The potential is huge.”
Simakov said that the technology could be adapted for use with several kinds of manure, particularly cow and pig manure. Renewable natural gas could also substitute for diesel fuel, which is a huge source of harmful emissions.
The researchers constructed a computer model based on a real 2,000-head dairy farm in Ontario that collects manure and converts it into biogas in anaerobic digesters. Some of this biogas is already being burned in generators to produce electricity.
The team wants to expand on this concept by converting the biogas into renewable natural gas. They will achieve this by mixing the biogas with hydrogen and then using a catalytic converter to produce methane in a process known as methanation.
The electricity needed to produce hydrogen could be generated by wind or solar power, or taken from the electrical grid at times of low demand. The researchers believe that their method will produce a renewable natural gas that efficiently stores electricity and uses nearly all of the energy potential of manure, while significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is how we can make the transition from fossil-based energy to renewable energy using existing infrastructure, which is a tremendous advantage,” said Simakov.
The study is published in the International Journal of Energy Research.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer