New study advances method to make energy from farm waste

By: By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD
By: By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD

New study advances method to make energy from farm waste

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Washington University engineers using imaging technology have found that vigorous mixing helps microorganisms turn farm waste into alternative energy.

Hog and cow manure is a persistent pollutant from industrial-sized barns and feed lots, but can become a useful source of fuels like methane when broken down by bacteria.

A team of researchers including Washington University professor Muthanna Al-Dahhan used imaging technology to study how microorganisms break down manure. They found that vigorous mixing helps the process. The goal is to produce a simple method that farmers can use to treat their waste and generate energy.

"Each year livestock operations produce 1.8 billion tons of cattle manure," Al-Dahhan said in a statement. "Treating manure (with microorganisms) gets rid of the environmental threats and produces bioenergy at the same time. That has been our vision."

The research was funded by a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy given in 2001. Al-Dahhan said the new findings are just a small step toward making a reliable "digester" that farmers could use to turn manure into methane.

The technology has been getting more interest as energy prices rise, although large-scale investment has faltered recently along with projects to build new ethanol and biodiesel plants.

Last week in Clovis, N.M., Gibbs Energy President Joe Maceda said construction would be delayed on a $25 million plant that would make methane gas from cow manure. The project faltered after its primary investor was crippled financially because of the sub-prime mortgage crash.

Separately, in Mead, Neb., E3 BioFuels declared bankruptcy late last year and delayed plans to build a patented methane-from-manure system to power an ethanol plant.

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CLINTON, N.C. (AP) - A Pennsylvania company said it plans to build a plant in eastern North Carolina to produce electricity from poultry waste.

Fibrowatt LLC said Wednesday the project will create about 100 jobs in Sampson County. The rural site, off Interstate 40 outside Clinton, is near numerous chicken and turkey farms.

The cost of the plant is expected to top $200 million. Company officials said they will seek financing.

Fibrowatt, founded in 2000, opened its first U.S. poultry waste plant last year in Benson, Minn.

Chief executive Rupert Fraser said the company will try to sell the electricity it generates. Construction is to begin in 2009, and officials hope to start operations in 2011.

The Langhorne, Pa.-based company also plans to develop two more plants in North Carolina, and is studying sites in Surry, Wilkes, Moore, Montgomery and Stanly counties.

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