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Illinois project: Crude oil from hogs' manure
Illinois Correspondent

URBANA, Ill. — Researchers at the University of Illinois (UOI) claim to be closing in on establishing a billion-dollar market to the hog industry, which will reduce U.S. dependence on crude oil imports.

Scientists at the university are teaming up with the Illinois Pork Producers Assoc. (IPPA) and other industry partners to design a “pilot plant” for livestock farms which will convert swine manure to crude oil.

Led by Yuanhui Zhang, an agricultural and biological engineer at UOI, the scientists have developed a system using thermochemical conversion (TCC) to transfer organic compounds such as 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.”

Jim Kaitschuck, executive director of the IPPA, said that while pork producers already understand that swine manure is an asset for their farming operations and the environment, the UOI project could help turn their excess manure into profit.

“Swine manure is an excellent source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and improves soil quality,” Kaitschuck told Farm World.

“The pork industry has continued to look at developing new technologies to convert manure to alternative uses such as pelleted fertilizer for golf courses and methane gas production to generate electricity. The increase in energy prices has fueled the demand to develop more bio-fuels for our country’s future energy policies.

“The manure-to-oil project has the potential to add more value to swine manure and increase producer profitability. The technology could also greatly reduce the amount of manure that producers would need to dispose of, thus reducing their cost for manure application. This could also reduce producers’ investments in complying with stringent environmental regulations. Another potential advantage of the technology is the odor reduction of the manure.”

The IPPA is providing partial funding for the project.

Les Christianson, an agricultural and biological engineer for the UOI, said he was optimistic about the potential success of the program.

“We believe that this can be economically feasible on a commercial scale,” Christianson said of the program. “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.”

Christianson said the project is in partnership with Worldwide Bio Energy (WWBE) regarding the marketing of the technology. “UOI has given an exclusive, primary license to WWBE to commercialize the technology. We want to maintain research preeminence that will help make it successful. WWBE will lead the effort to produce it,” Christianson said.

Innoventor Engineering Inc. and BioCrude have been sublicensed by WWBE to construct and operate the first commercial plants.

“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,” Zhang said.

“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 solutions that can address both those problems.”

This farm news was published in the March 15, 2006 issue of Farm World.