Research at the University of Illinois is one step closer to opening up a billion-dollar market to the hog industry and reducing U.S. dependence on crude oil imports. U of I scientists have teamed with industry partners to design a pilot plant for a large commercial livestock farm that will convert swine manure to crude oil.
The pilot plant is based on research led by Yuanhui Zhang, an agricultural and biological engineer at the U of I. Zhang and colleagues developed a system using thermochemical conversion to transform organic compounds (like swine manure) in a heated and pressurized enclosure to produce oil and gas. It does not require pre-drying of the manure and allows for continuous pumping of feed stock and continuous output.
Zhang's team has achieved as high as 70% conversion from swine manure volatile solids to oil. At that conversion efficiency, the manure excreted by one pig during the production cycle could produce up to 21 gallons of crude oil and add a $10 per pig profit. In the 100-million-hogs-per-year U.S. industry alone, that adds up to a billion dollars.
Now, steps are being taken to build a pilot plant that will help determine if the TCC process can live up to those numbers. Worldwide BioEnergy is leading this effort in close cooperation with the U of I research team.
Les Christianson, an agricultural and biological engineer at U of I and the industry liaison for Zhang's team, is optimistic about the potential for the manure-to-oil process. "We believe that this can be economically feasible on a commercial scale," he says. "The first plant won't be the final design, but it will help us figure out what the right design is. Every technology goes through a learning curve, where you improve quality and reduce costs."
According to Christianson, "U of I has given an exclusive, primary license to WWBE to commercialize the technology. We want to maintain research preeminence that will help make it successful. Worldwide BioEnergy will lead the effort to produce it."
In the meantime, Zhangâ€™s team has expanded his research to determine if other types of livestock manure, and even human waste, can be used as feed stock for the TCC process.
Innoventor Engineering Inc. and BioCrude have been sublicensed by WWBE to construct and operate the first commercial-sized systems for swine waste and human waste.
"Billions of dollars are spent on waste transportation and treatment, and regulations continue to become more stringent and cost-intensive to satisfy our desire for a clean environment," says Zhang. "Meanwhile, we have a growing need for bio-fuels that would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the world's finite supply of crude petroleum.
"It is vitally important that we develop innovative solutions that can address both those problems," he concludes.