By DOUG GRAVES
WOOSTER, Ohio — Anyone with doubts about biogas and contributions from this relatively new renewable energy source should just take a glance at what those at The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) are doing.
They are taking animal fat, rotten produce, bad soda, manure and other agricultural and food-processing wastes to meet close to one-third of the 12 megawatt-hour annual electricity needs of its main campus. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this biogas (or renewable natural gas) is equivalent to 3.6 MWh of green energy, enough to power 313 average U.S. homes.
Many U.S. colleges and universities are turning to renewable energy sources to meet all or some of their power needs, as part of a growing trend that also involves the implementation of additional sustainability initiatives such as construction of “green” buildings and comprehensive campus recycling. “Our setup is very different because we have a private company located on campus that we partner with, and which produces the biogas, converts it to electricity and sells it to us,” said John Ott, head of OARDC’s Facilities Services. “Most other schools run their own power-generation facilities, whether solar, wind, geothermal, biomass or biogas.”
Some universities in Ohio and other states use solar and wind technology to reach alternative energy goals. The OARDC campus employs anaerobic digestion technology, turning a variety of organic wastes such as rotten vegetables, animal fat, animal waste and more into biogas. The biogas is then converted into electricity. At the heart of this process is a 550,000-gallon anaerobic digester built by quasar energy group, a Cleveland-based company. This digester can process 30,000 wet tons of biomass annually. This helps keep such refuse out of landfills and incinerators.
Those at OARDC are happy to report 74 percent of the electricity generated by the Wooster digester is sold to OARDC.
“Our ideal goal is for this campus to become carbon-neutral,” said OARDC Associate Director David Benfield. “To do that, we need an energy source that goes through the carbon cycle, which anaerobic digestion does. In the future, we would like to purchase additional energy from quasar to reach 50 percent biogas-derived electricity use.” He added OARDC’s power-purchase agreement with quasar makes environmental and financial sense. “We are seeing 3 percent in savings compared to what we would pay to the electrical supplier,” Benfield said.
In addition to electricity, OARDC has modified some vehicles in its fleet to run on compressed natural gas, which is also supplied by quasar and is significantly cheaper and less polluting than gasoline. For the past few years, OARDC has been using trucks that run partly on biodiesel, to transport feed to its outlying agricultural research stations across the state.