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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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