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Agriculture Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed a process for converting raw pig manure into crude oil

Published on April 16th, 2010 | by Tina Casey

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Who's Laughing Now? Scientists Make Crude Oil from Pig Manure

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April 16th, 2010 by  

Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed a process for converting raw pig manure into crude oilPig manure is one step away from a transformation of metamorphic proportions.  The lowly waste product, notorious for its impact on the environment and on human olfactory nerves, is on the verge of becoming an important alternative to petroleum now that scientists at the University of Illinois have developed a process for converting raw pig manure to crude oil.  With further development, the process may even yield biodiesel.

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If successful commercially, the process would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from pig farms and many other types of livestock operations.  In particular, it could help protect drinking water supplies in livestock farming areas.

Pig Manure and Oil Supplies

When it comes to providing an alternative source of oil, pig manure ain’t no small potatoes.  According to an article by Steve Giegerich in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one pig generates up to 8 pounds of manure per day.  The research team estimates that a 10,000-hog farm could produce about 5,000 barrels of crude oil per year.  The bottom line: instead of ending up with a manure waste disposal nightmare, hog farms could see an increase in income of up to $15 per hog.

Make Oil, Not Manure

The manure-to-oil process uses thermochemical conversion, in which heat and pressure act on organic compounds in a revved-up, tightly controlled imitation of the much longer process that occurs in nature.  In order to develop a commercially viable method, the research team ditched the catalyst required by the conventional process, and they figured out a way to keep pig hair and dander from fouling the equipment.  The team also skipped the conventional first step, which would be to dewater the manure.  Instead, their process uses raw manure containing 80% water.  The use of raw manure requires more heat to activate the conversion, but the researchers note that could be captured and recycled with a heat exchanger.

The Future of Manure Oil

As Giegerich reports, for now the manure oil is being tested as a low grade binder for asphalt on a stretch of road near I-44 in Illionis.  The team has also refined the product to an oil that could compete with diesel fuel.   If the process can be made cost-effective, it will be the latest in a series of fast-breaking developments in converting manure to an important alternative to fossil fuels in the U.S.  It’s already happening with manure and methane gas conversion.  In particular, the dairy industry is already advancing quickly along the cow manure-to-methane road, partly in a water quality preservation effort.

Image: Pig by lastquest on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Eli Wiedrich

    lets make sure big oil doesn’t suppress this

  • Latinsfinpr

    When someone figures out how to convert human waste into gasoline, we
    won’t need the arab oil anymore. Prices of gas would decrease substantially, America can power up on people poop. Hey, everyone has to go to the bathroom at sometime.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Perhaps some math is in order.

      We use over one gallon of gasoline per person each day in the US.  How much fuel do you suspect there is in a daily dump?

      We do need to get methane digesters on our sewage treatment plants.  No sense in wasting that fuel. 

  • Bngautam16

    in our manuscripts &traditional knowledge ,ancient wisdom (India) much has been discussed about cow dung urine we call it gow mata(mother cow)

  • Greg Kuntz

    This is a great idea. Very glad to see the progress made over the last ten years! I would like to see use in the power industry. Great opportunities are opening up for export along the Pacific Rim and even in the U.S. with new mandates.

    Thanks,
    Greg

  • Dipster

    5,000 barrels of crude a year is not very much. Even if it is only one farm. Why not use existing technology from the cow power mentioned in the article. New technology to make a small amount of oil and later maybe diesel or expand use of existing technology to increase renewable component of the power grid. 2nd choice seems like a slam dunk.

  • OGreenOne

    While I think this is great, in bio fuels made from kitchen oil people say the cars smell like french fries. Did the reasearchers work on the end use odor?

  • Al Thomas

    Is SBM a public company? If yes please send the stock Symbol.

    Thanks

    Al Thomas

    athomas@tmpartners.com

  • MD

    “Thunderdome”

    Aunty Entity and Master already knew this would work…

    “In Bartertown, electricity, vehicles, functioning technology—all almost unheard of in this post-apocalyptic world—are made possible by a crude methane refinery, fueled by pig’s feces, using a weathered semi tractor as the electricity generator.”

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