Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From waste to energy

Students will be working this fall to install a pilot digester system at the Cornell Cooperative Farm in Canton, New York, and then evaluate the economic feasibility of treating agricultural waste at small farms to generate renewable energy. The scaled version of a 50-cow digester will allow for the completion of a mass and energy balance over an 18 month period. This information will be of critical importance for the economic assessment of the proposed process. Up to now, farm digesters have been thought to be only economical in the US for very large farms. However, in New York State the majority of farms are small and only 50 % of the cows are housed on large farms. Therefore if this research is successful many farmers would have access to this form of renewable energy significantly reducing the farmers cost for energy in form of heat and electricity.

The construction and testing of the digester is the second phase of a successful SPEED project. An interdisciplinary team of Clarkson students competed in the 2010 EPA P3 Sustainability Design competition last April and brought home a $75,000 grant to complete Phase II of the project. The team presented their work on "Farm Waste to Energy: A Sustainable Solution for Small-Scale Farms" at the competition. Students developed and tested in the laboratory a hybrid process that would treat all of their organic waste (manure, food waste, hay, grasses, etc.) in an anaerobic digester generating biogas, which is used to produce heat and electricity. The goal of the project is to develop and optimize a viable anaerobic digester technology for dairy farms in cold climates with 50 or fewer cows. The digesters would utilize dairy manure and other co-substrates on small farms to create biogas for energy production. The team, which is advised by professors Stefan J. Grimberg, Shane Rogers, and Rick Welsh, also won a P3 Student Choice Award at last year's competition.

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