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

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Koreas on Edge Amid Live-fire Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid