Waste-to-Energy Research and Teaching Facility Opens

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Steve Safferman (view larger image)

Michigan State’s new Anaerobic Digester Research and Education Center (ADREC) will advance the science and technology of anaerobic digestion through cutting-edge research and will play a key role in expanding Michigan’s bioeconomy.

The facility opened during Ag Expo in July.

“Anaerobic digestion has proven to be a feasible technology to convert waste to resource while minimizing negative impact on the environment,” said Ajit Srivastava, chairperson of the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. “However, because of the high cost, it’s affordable only for large dairy operations. The goal of the ADREC is to develop off-the-shelf anaerobic digestion technology so it becomes cost-effective for small to medium-sized farms [defined as 200 to 499 milking cows]. There are more than 6,000 dairy farms in Michigan that fall in this range, so the potential of AD technology to convert animal manure to energy, all the while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is huge.”

The facility also brings MSU‘s research resources together under one roof.

“This facility brought together resources that we had spread across four laboratories on campus,” said Dana Kirk, visiting biosystems and agricultural engineering specialist, who will manage ADREC. “By building this facility, we’re able to bring researchers, graduate students, undergraduates and staff members together under one roof so we can share instrumentation and collaborate.”

Anaerobic digesters store livestock waste in a tank deprived of oxygen. The lack of oxygen allows the waste materials to decompose quickly and produces methane that can be captured and used as fuel. When waste decomposes in open tanks, the methane released is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

“We think MSU can play a very critical role in this industry as it evolves in this country because of the resources we have—both in the faculty and staff members and now in the laboratory facilities,” said Steve Safferman, MABR biosystems and agricultural engineering scientist.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a new interagency agreement promoting renewable energy generation and slashing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The collaboration provides $3.9 million over the next five years, expands technical assistance, improves standards and guidance, and expands outreach to livestock producers.

The EPA estimates that 150 on-farm manure digesters are operating across the country and that about 8,000 farms are good candidates for capturing and using biogas.

If all 8,000 farms implemented biogas systems, methane emissions would be reduced by more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is roughly equal to the annual emissions from 6.5 million passenger vehicles. In addition, these projects could generate more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy.

“The methane gas can be used instead of conventional energy sources,” Kirk said. “It can directly replace natural gas if we scrub out the impurities—it actually can be inserted in the pipeline and burned in a home. Methane gas typically has been converted into electricity by using it as the fuel source for a turbine or an internal combustion engine.”

“Instead of waste being an environmental burden on the environment, it’s now an asset and a very much needed commodity,” Safferman added.

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