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New Biogas Effort Launched in Manure Wars

Pigs and other farm animals produce greenhouse gassesWhen it comes to methane gas emissions and the impact on global warming, one’s thoughts naturally turn to the barrage of untreated manure unleashed by factory farms.  Methane is also an issue for small farms, especially the growing number of start-ups with little spare cash to invest in equipment.  To the rescue: a new breakthrough in biogas treatment that promises to pour some much needed cold water on methane emissions from factory farms, while giving the small-farm sector a chance to have their cake and eat it, too.

The Problem with Methane from Manure

One part of the equation is already solved.  Anaerobic digesters – the kind used in sewage treatment plants – can render manure into a stable compost while capturing methane biogas.  Cities are already required to have them for people.  It’s not hard to see the day when they’re a standard feature in farms.  Why aren’t they already required?  That what Iowa wants to know.

Even if all farms had anaerobic digesters, the problem is what to do with the gas.  According to the US EPA, methane biogas from manure contains small amounts of hydrogen sulfide and other toxic gasses.  This limits its suitability for onsite use as a fuel.

Manure Biogas Gets the Membrane Treatment

Membrane Technology and Research, Inc. has just won a $70,000 grant to study the use of a low cost process to remove toxins from the methane generated by anaerobic digesters.  The process is based on a new family of polymeric membranes with unique permeability/selectivity characteristics.  Phase I will consist of improving the membrane’s performance and capability for reproduction.  If that’s successful, Phase II will test a demo model in the lab and in the field.

Life Could be a Biogas for Small Farmers

The key factor in Membrane Technology’s new process is cost.  By using a membrane-based process, the company hopes to develop technology that could be affordable for more farms, not just the giants.  The generation of clean, usable methane on-site would also help offset costs for small farms, provide a local power source for remote areas, and help us all clean the coal out of our national closet.

Biogas Beyond Farms?

Add up the number of pet owners you know, and it’s easy to see that untreated animal waste is everyone’s problem.  At least one city is experiment with collecting pet waste.  An affordable, scalable process for recovering compost and fuel from non-farm animals could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Image:  oddsock at flickr.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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