Thursday, June 01, 2006

Poop to Power Your Car

About a year ago, Treehugger published a post about a Minnesota farm using biogas produced from cow poop fed into an anaerobic digester to power an engine that runs a generator. Apparently, though, the biogas contains corrosive chemicals that make using it as an alternative fuel for cars problematic. Students at Western Washington University's Vehicle Research Institute have been working on that very issue, though, and developed a "scrubber" that cleans those chemicals out of the gas:

Eric Leonhardt, director of the institute, said the fuel, which he calls "biomethane," is less flammable than gasoline and produces fewer greenhouse gases than manure left to decompose naturally in fields.

He estimates that the natural gas would cost about half the current price of gasoline to produce, but emphasizes that that is not the real benefit of cow power.

"If we can get farmers to put in anaerobic digesters, that's going to be the environmental impact," he said. "The gas is really an aside. The real impact is getting manure out of the water supply."

This new kind of natural gas isn't ready to be pumped into your car at a service station -- yet. Only one farm in Washington has started turning its cow manure into natural gas, although the process is catching on more quickly in some other states where utility companies are helping farmers buy anaerobic digesters.

An anaerobic digester on Darryl Vander Haak's dairy farm in Lynden processes manure from about 1,000 cows into electricity to sell to Puget Sound Energy. At full capacity, the digester can produce enough energy to power 180 homes.

While the scrubber the students have created is relatively crude and not commercially viable at this point, they have been able to use it to create liquid fuel: "Waste produced by 15 cows has been enough to run the institute's natural-gas car for 250 to 300 miles, [student Matt] Wilson said." No one involved in the project believes they've discovered the cure-all for oil addiction, but Wilson notes "It can't replace gasoline, but it can play a big part in ending our dependency on fossil fuels." Congratulations to these students and their instructors for applying their ingenuity to the furtherance of poop power... we need more like you!

Via Kickass Web Design.

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