February 28, 2006
Posted online March 15, 2006
Converting manure to oil: U of I lays groundwork for
one-of-a-kind pilot plant
By Leanne Lucas
URBANA - 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
(TCC) to transform organic compounds (like swine manure) in a
heated and pressurized enclosure to produce oil and gas.
"The process we developed is different from most
conventional TCC processes," said Zhang. "There is no
need for the addition of a catalyst, and our process does not
require pre-drying of the manure."
The initial stage of Zhang's research led to the
development of a batch TCC reactor.
"With a batch reactor, you 'cook' one batch,
empty it, then cook another batch, empty it," said Zhang.
"Now we have a continuous reactor, which means continuous
pumping of feed stock and continuous output. The development of a
continuous reactor brings the technology one step closer to a TCC
Zhang's team has achieved as high as 70-percent 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.
The Illinois Pork Producers Association has helped fund the
project, and its executive director, Jim Kaitschuk, said,
"We're very supportive of this research. We see a number
of advantages to producing crude oil from swine manure, which
includes adding value to manure products."
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 (WWBE) 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 said. "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, Zhang'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," said 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
Source: Yuanhui Zhang; (217) 333-2693; firstname.lastname@example.org; Les Christianson;