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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-10-11 16:35:14
  • Article ID: 682752

Bio-Methane Transforms From Landfill Waste to Energy Source

  • Credit: Michigan Tech

    Chemical engineers from Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute assessed the processes that convert food waste and manure into bio-methane at Colorado's Heartland Biogas Facility LLC.

Methane is far more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—25 times more so. The gas, which is produced by decomposing organic materials in the absence of air, not only traps heat efficiently but is also a health and safety hazard because it's so concentrated in landfills. About half of the landfills in the US collect and burn methane, mitigating the danger but still contributing to atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide levels. Animal manure decomposition on farms is the main contributor of methane emissions in agriculture.

Repurposing that wasted gas is the focus of a new study published in the journal Environmental Progress and Sustainable Energy by chemical engineers from Michigan Technological University. Specifically, they examined the carbon footprint of anaerobic digestion—composting organics without air—which can be used to redirect methane into a usable energy source.

"We found that bio-methane produced through anaerobic digestion emits far less than its fossil natural gas equivalent," says Sharath Ankathi, the paper's lead author and a PhD student at Michigan Tech. Studying each product's carbon footprint is a way to assess its social, environmental and economic impact—in other words how sustainable it is—which Ankathi says is "defined as helping current generations without compromising their needs or the needs of future generations."

Ankathi's faculty advisor is David Shonnard, a professor of chemical engineering who leads the Sustainable Futures Institute on campus. They also collaborated with James Potter from AG Energy USA, and together the team focused on a case study of a biogas facility in Colorado. Their primary tool is a life cycle assessment (LCA).

Ankathi and Shonnard dug into the piles of organic waste coming into Colorado's Heartland Biogas Facility LLC and assessed the process that turns food waste from restaurants in Denver and manure from dairy farms near the facility into bio-methane, an energy source. This is the first study that looks at the entire anaerobic digestion life cycle of both food waste and dairy manure and that includes avoided landfill emissions.

Methane emissions account for 11 percent of the country's overall greenhouse gas emissions; both manure and food waste are significant contributors. In the US, 97 percent of food waste is buried and decomposes in landfills while manure is most commonly placed in open-to-the-sky lagoons, storage pits, slurries, deep beds for cattle and swine, or poultry high-rise houses. Dairy cows are the most significant contributor to methane emissions from manure decomposition.

Anaerobic digesters take those uncovered piles of sitting manure and place them in large covered tanks. Bacteria are used to break down the solids and liquids; the key is ensuring the breakdown doesn’t come in contact with oxygen. Food waste on its own is not as efficient in anaerobic digestion, so blending it with manure solves two problems with one process. The end products are a liquid digestate, which can be used for fertilizer or industrial uses, and bio-methane, which can be used like natural gas.

In their analysis, the team found that bio-methane produced from all available food waste and dairy manure in the US annually would offset about .74 percent of annual natural gas demand. The bigger savings come in mitigated methane emissions; around 100 Heartland-scale anaerobic digestion facilities can eliminate about 0.41 percent annually of the approximately seven billion tons of overall US greenhouse gas emissions.

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Opening Windows for New Spintronic Studies

A surprising discovery could potentially offer major advantages in speed, heat dissipation and power consumption in electronic devices.

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This research offers new information to understand the role of microorganisms in elemental cycling in the Arctic.

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ORNL Wins Four FLC Technology Transfer Awards

Four technologies developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have earned 2018 Excellence in Technology Transfer Awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC).

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MSU Uses $3 Million NASA Grant to Find Better Ways to Regulate Dams

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Twenty-four teams from 16 Bay Area high schools faced off Feb. 3 in the SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl, a series of fast-paced question-and-answer matches that test knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space sciences, energy and math. The competition is hosted annually by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

David Asner Named Deputy Associate Laboratory Director and Head of the Instrumentation Division in Brookhaven Lab's Nuclear and Particle Physics Directorate

A particle physicist with extensive leadership and management experience, Asner will help expand a portfolio of physics programs and oversee instrumentation research and development.

UIC to Provide Energy-Saving 'Kits' with $3.1m in Funding From ComEd

The University of Illinois at Chicago's Energy Resources Center has received funding from ComEd to provide energy-efficient LED light bulbs, advanced power strips, and educational material to income-qualified participants in northern Illinois.As part of a $3.1 million year-long investment, the utility company will fund the Low Income Kit Energy (LIKE) program, allowing engineers at UIC's Energy Resources Center to provide energy-saving kits to 35,000 eligible individuals and/or families.

DOE's HPC4Manufacturing Program Seeks Industry Proposals

The Department of Energy (DOE) on Feb. 1 announced up to $3 million will be made available to U.S. manufacturers for public/private projects aimed at applying high performance computing to industry challenges for the advancement of energy innovation.

Elke-Caroline Aschenauer Awarded Prestigious Humboldt Research Award

UPTON, NY -- Elke-Caroline Aschenauer, a senior physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been awarded a Humboldt Research Award for her contributions to the field of experimental nuclear physics. This prestigious international award--issued by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn, Germany--comes with a prize of EUR60,000 (more than $70,000 U.


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Sunlight Stimulates Microbial Respiration of Carbon in Surface Waters

This research offers new information to understand the role of microorganisms in elemental cycling in the Arctic.

Defects and Surface Reactions Boost Batteries

Defect-enhanced transport and complex phase growth are changing design rules for lithium-ion batteries.

Remembering Really Fast

Colossal magnetoresistance at terahertz frequencies in thin composites boosts novel memory devices operated at extremely high speed.

Tuning Quantum Light Sources

First known material capable of emitting single photons at room temperature and telecom wavelengths.

Working Night and Day

Day-night changes in light and temperature power a low-cost material assembly that mimics biological self-copying.

A Nanowire Array to Screen Drugs for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Engineers develop wires that penetrate neurons and measure their activity

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Gel uses nanoparticles for on-demand control of droplet shapes, of interest for energy storage and catalysis.

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Current generated when light hits a material reveals electrons behaving like an elusive particle.

Single Atoms in Nano-Cages

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Simulations discovered the first molecule with three extra electrons and extraordinary stability.


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