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$ 6.8 million project seeks to develop cow-inspired biodigesters

Cattle are highly efficient at digesting hard materials, and a proposed energy production system based, in part, on the cow stomachs, could generate 40 percent more energy from municipal waste streams, at a reduced cost of 20 percent, and provide a viable alternative to sending waste to landfills.

That's the goal of a $ 6.8 million effort to increase the efficiency of how we convert organic solid waste from garbage and sewage into methane, a pipeline-ready renewable fuel.

Led by the University of Michigan, the project includes partnerships with the Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern University, and others. The US Department of Energy is providing $ 5 million of the funding.

“It is time for us to change our thinking as a society. These organic materials are just waste in the sense that we bury them in landfills or compost them. We are throwing away valuable raw material. We believe we have created a highly scalable solution to meet the needs of an urbanized world, "said Steve Skerlos, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and co-principal investigator on the project.

The effort, Led by Lutgarde Raskin, Vernon L. Snoeyink Distinguished University Professor of Environmental Engineering, and professor of civil and environmental engineering, it goes beyond technology development to build a collaboration that will deploy the system in society and educate the workforce needed to operate it. .

 U-M researchers, including graduate research assistant Renata Rae Strarostka, are working on a new biodigester that converts organic solid waste from garbage and sewage into renewable methane. (Photo by Robert Coelius, College of Engineering) "class =" wp-image-82947 "/>
<figcaption> UM researchers, including graduate research assistant Renata Rae Strarostka, are working on a new biodigester that converts organic solid waste from garbage and sewage into renewable methane. (Photo by Robert Coelius, Faculty of Engineering) </figcaption></figure><p> Methane, the main component of natural gas, can be produced by bioreactors that absorb the organic matter produced in our homes: human waste that we dispose of by our toilets and food waste that disappears in kitchen disposals or is thrown into garbage cans. . Today, it is not a particularly efficient process and the latest generation bioreactors have only a narrow band of materials that they can decompose.</p><p> Beyond that, methane is a by-product of decomposing organic waste in landfills, where it is released into the atmosphere. It is a potent greenhouse gas, so capturing more for energy production could be a double climate advantage.</p><p> “Over the course of the next decade, the technologies, design and operational strategies and educational programs of this project could lead to a doubling or more of the energy generated from food waste in the US,” said Skerlos .</p><h2> <strong> Imitation of nature's most efficient biodigesters </strong></h2><p> UM researchers set out to expand the types of organic waste materials that bioreactors can break down beyond food waste and sludge of wastewater, and that is why they looked to nature for inspiration.</p><p> "A cow's stomach is really good at breaking down lignocellulosic material, things like grass and hay that cattle eat," Raskin said. “These materials cannot be digested by the anaerobic bioreactors that are commonly used today. We are looking to develop a new bioreactor that can also digest yard waste and paper waste. "</p><p> The cow stomach (rumen) bioreactor represents a part of a two-phase anaerobic bioreactor system, called anaerobic because it does not require oxygen. The first bioreactor converts organic waste into simpler compounds like acetic acid, the main component of vinegar. The second reactor converts those simpler compounds into methane. Their combined footprint is much smaller than that of bioreactors typical currently in use, making them more affordable to build and operate, the researchers say.</p><p> UM's system is capable of efficiently generating biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. Convert that into pipeline-ready renewable methane is the work of researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University. system that also converts the carbon dioxide from the biogas into methane.</p><p> "Argonne's electrochemical technology provides a pathway for using renewable energy to directly convert biogas into profitable renewable methane," said Meltem Urgun-Demirtas, Leader of the Argonne Bioprocesses and Reactive Separations group in the Argonne Applied Materials Division</p><p> The three aspects of the project will start and progress separately at the beginning. Argonne will host a laboratory-scale assembly of the integrated system. Later, a pilot system will be built at the Great Lakes Water Authority's water resources reclamation facility in Detroit.</p><p> Utilities such as the GLWA recovery facility will benefit as they currently do not have systems in place to recover energy from the sewage sludge and organic waste they produce. In keeping with GLWA's goal of becoming energy neutral, the pilot program run by utility staff will be crucial in establishing that the system can be fully deployed.</p><h2> <strong> Educating Tomorrow's Renewable Methane Workforce </strong></h2><p> A key component of the project is creating a research and education collaboration to help train graduate and undergraduate students for a workforce. next generation bioenergy technology workforce.</p><p> Educational partners include the University of Toronto, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and the University of Monterrey. At U-M, the project will partner with the university's Center for Socially Engaged Design.</p><p> "This systematic approach is vital to ensure that waste-to-energy technology is not only viable, but is deployed throughout North America and beyond," said Skerlos.</p><p> The U-M research team also includes co-chairs Kuang Zhu, a researcher in civil and environmental engineering, and Tim Fairley-Wax, a specialist research laboratory in the same department.</p><p> The project is funded by DOE's Office of Bioenergy Technologies. Another $ 1.8 million for the project comes from matching funds provided by GLWA, the consulting firm enCTRL Solutions, Carollo Engineers Inc., and others. U-M will use and distribute approximately $ 5.2 million, while Argonne National Laboratory will receive $ 1.6 million.</p><dl
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