Waste to Energy Initiative

Summary

What if we could actually convert animal waste to usable energy?

True to our focus on “Solutions for Pollution” and with the help of our team of environmental scientists, GELF has identified a breakthrough approach to clean up animal waste and transform it into clean-burning high grade hydrogen fuel and usable nutrients. A true renewable source for hydrogen production.

The Problem

Large-scale animal farms are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. They produce a tremendous amount of manure or waste every day. To deal with the waste, farmers use what is called anaerobic treatment lagoons. The treatment lagoons can be quite large and some are the size of football fields. When the lagoons fill up, they need to be drained. This is accomplished by spraying the water over land crops. These vast lagoons, as you can imagine, can smell badly. They attract flies and can cause significant environmental contamination if released into the water system. Draining the lagoons can increase the effects over a large area. For years, animal producers have had a difficult time dealing with this issue.  The problem is so bad that neighboring residents and communities have been pushing back, demanding a new way to treat the waste.

The Solution

Through a process using an emerging technology called Microbial Electrolysis Cells (MECs), the liquid effluent from these “manure lagoons” can be treated to separate out pure hydrogen (H) that can be used as a clean-burning fuel source.  It also isolates nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) that can be used as fertilizer.

The Science

High-strength organic waste (manure) contains high concentrations of Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). Certain types of microorganisms in the MEC feed on the BOD which breaks down the organic matter. Then they breathe electrons which are captured by the system and converted into pure hydrogen gas.

The MEC system oxidizes BOD at the anode of the electrochemical cell and the released electrons are converted to hydrogen gas (H2) at the cathode. At the same time, the energy value of the BOD is causing organic nitrogen to be released as ammonium ion (NH4+) and organic phosphorus as (PO43-) ions. These ions can then be removed and recovered using selection adsorption and the result converted into renewable fertilizer feedstock.  If the nitrogen and phosphorus are not captured and isolated, they can become an environmental hazard that trigger toxic algal blooms. Instead, this process turns it into environmentally safe and economically useful products.

The Outcome

This process transforms an environmental hazard into economically useful products that help offset the cost of applying this solution, creating a closed loop benefit.  The science can be applied to many different kinds of waste. With hundreds of millions of tons of waste produced annually, this will provide a dramatic environmental solution.

The Team

Bruce Rittmann, Ph.D. - Director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University
Pei Xu, Ph.D. - Environmental Lab for Innovative Technologies at New Mexico State University
Jason Ren, Ph.D. - Professor of Environmental Biotechnology at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University
Brent Solia, Ph.D. - MICROrganic Technologies
Tom Sephton - Sephton Water Technology