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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More