News / Science & Technology

    Getting Mileage Out of Manure

    Dairy farmer, researchers look for ways to power cars with bio-gas from cattle

    Dairy owner Darryl Vander Haak turns cow manure into  'bio-gas' which burns like natural gas in a small electric power plant right on his farm.
    Dairy owner Darryl Vander Haak turns cow manure into 'bio-gas' which burns like natural gas in a small electric power plant right on his farm.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Tom Banse

    Five years ago, dairy farmer Darryl Vander Haak flipped the switch on the first electric generator in Washington State powered by manure. The facility is officially known as a methane digester.

    Manure from about 1,000 cows goes in one end and then, controlled decomposition yields methane gas at the other.

    The raw material for the digester comes from livestock waste that might otherwise end up in a smelly manure lagoon on the farm. This so-called 'bio-gas' is burned like natural gas in a small electric power plant right on Vander Haak's farm. The dairyman sells his excess power to the local electric utility.

    Methane digesters are increasing in number, especially in Europe. But there's an important difference between Europe and America: electricity in the U.S. is relatively cheap. Dairyman Vander Haak says his energy sales have not been profitable. "The Northwest has too much [cheap] hydropower to compete with," he points out, adding that he's been looking for alternative markets. "It would be easier to compete with the gas companies, I guess."

    Cow power to horsepower


    That's why Vander Haak was open-minded when the Vehicle Research Institute at Western Washington University, just down the road from his dairy, called with an offer to truck away some of his methane.

    One researcher calculates that cows from two large dairies could fuel all public buses in a medium-sized American city.
    One researcher calculates that cows from two large dairies could fuel all public buses in a medium-sized American city.

    Institute director Eric Leonhardt says he's had his eye on the dairy herd as a source of transportation fuel for a long time. He calls it "cow power to horsepower."

    Leonhardt says the challenge is to cost-effectively remove impurities from the manure-derived methane. "When the gas comes off the digester, it has not only methane in it - 60 percent -- it also has carbon dioxide -- 40 percent, roughly. And it has a trace of hydrogen sulfide," says Leonhardt. Those impurities rapidly corrode engine parts.

    Powering vehicles with clean natural gas is not new. Nor is generating fuel from renewable sources. But cars and trucks that run on methane are still a novelty in the U.S.

    However, since last year, biogas has gotten renewed attention from the Obama Administration as part of a larger push to promote domestic renewable energy.

    The Viking 32, built by students and faculty at Western Washington University, runs on biofuel.
    The Viking 32, built by students and faculty at Western Washington University, runs on biofuel.

    The economics of methane-powered cars

    The U.S. Department of Energy gave the Vehicle Research Institute a $500,000 grant to improve the biogas refining process and then demonstrate whether the fuel can be cost-competitive in cars. Leonhardt says a lot depends on the price of traditional fossil fuel.

    It would have to climb higher to give consumers a financial incentive to switch. At present, the average price of gasoline in the United States is well below Leonhardt's barely-competitive threshold of about 75-cents per liter.

    This spring, the Vehicle Research Institute plans to retrofit a donated shuttle bus to run on methane. It will take a few months of road testing to confirm Leonhardt's cost estimates. The researcher has already calculated that the cows from just two large dairies could fuel all the public buses in a medium-sized American city.

    You May Like

    Multimedia US Observes Memorial Day With Wreath-laying, National Concert

    Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora