When it comes to heating your home, cow manure isn’t usually the first source that comes to mind. Senior business major Cameron Worth and senior chemistry major Jon Miller think differently.
These students, along with others in the business and chemistry department, have entered into the Ohio Clean Energy Challenge ran by the Ohio Department of Renewable Energy with their own ideas for clean energy.
According to the Ohio Clean Energy Challenge website, this competition is “designed to provide student entrepreneurs with the opportunity to showcase their energy technology and business plans; receive university and industry support and feedback; gain exposure within the venture capital and funding community; and compete for cash prizes to support their technology and business plan.”
“Different universities compete and create a business plan for clean energy and then they are judged on that,” Miller said. “All of the money you win goes to starting and investing in the company and the idea.”
The money prizes are pretty hefty. The state of Ohio grand prize is $10,000, the Midwest grand prize is $100,000 and the National grand prize is another $100,000.
This is the first year that Malone has entered into the Ohio Clean Energy Challenge. They are up against major schools in the area including previous winners, The Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University.
“This is our first time,” Worth said. “We are just trying to figure it out.”
But there is more to it than just the business plan. There is a lot of science that goes into making this more than just an idea.
How does this work exactly?
According to the Green Mountain Power website, a cow can produce over 30 gallons of manure a day. Ironically enough, the chemical methane found in cow manure can create electricity.
“The idea of generating methane from manure isn’t really a new idea,” Miller said.
As far as they know, it hasn’t been made very practical for a lot of people because it is an expensive process.
“It’s still pretty large scale, but as far as being available to small farms its not really there yet,” Miller said. “Our goal is to design some kind of instrument that will be able to do this and will provide the methane for smaller scale operations.”
Miller said that this instrument would be specifically good for cow manure because their manure already has a bacterium that is wired to break down into methane. This manure is an organic compound and there are two anaerobic stages that have to be without oxygen.
The first stage is when the bacterium breaks down this organic solid into fatty acids. The second stage then has the anaerobic bacteria break down the fatty acids into the methane needed.
“We want to design this instrument where you can put the manure into this thing and after awhile the bacteria will break down into the methane,” Miller said. “The methane will then rise to the top of this instrument and we will pull the methane off.”
After this process is complete, they will purify the methane and then at that point it can be used for any kind of utility that runs on natural gas. They plan on doing some experimenting to find the proper temperature and other variables.
Miller said that he’s not sure this specific project will set them apart from other schools in the competition.
“I don’t know, since this is not a new technology, that a lot of people will go for it,” he said.
They want to work on perfecting something that has been around for a while and to make it more available for people.
“This was the best option for us because of the expense,” Miller said. He said they also thought about wind energy.
Will cow manure be our future source of heat? Guess we’ll have to wait and see what these students have to offer.
Emily Geig is a contributing writer for The Aviso AVW