Digesters big and small a topic at Ohio renewable energy workshop

Jay Martin, Ohio State University renewable energy researcher, says the success of the Model T Ford can be shared in the digester industry if the product is made equally simple, practical and affordable.

Martin spoke to a crowd of several hundred during Ohio State University’s Renewable Energy Workshop Nov. 12.

Appeal to the masses

The Model T started selling in 1909 — exactly 100 years ago. Martin said more expensive and elaborate cars, like the Packard and Cadillac were available, but said the ‘T’ appealed to the average person and created a market — a path digesters can follow, if a smaller-scale model is made marketable.

The average price for a large-scale digester is about $1 million, Martin said, and the amount of cattle it takes to produce enough waste is so great, that only a small percent of U.S. dairies would qualify.

About 95 percent of the country’s dairy farmers have 500 head or less, he said, which means the “multitude” of the market are mid-size and smaller dairies.

Martin said what Henry Ford wanted to do was “Get a car to the great multitude of people,” one that “everybody will be able to afford and everyone will have.”

Through his research, Martin has found there are actually millions of smaller-scale digesters in use in China and India, and has conversed with local Amish producers who could also benefit.

Big isn’t bad

But big digesters aren’t being discounted, and a fairly sizable one is on its way to completion on the campus of Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, where officials with quasar energy group (formerly known as Schmack BioEnergy) are in the process of constructing a digester that will produce about a third of the campus’ energy needs.

Clemens Halene, vice president of engineering, said the 550,000-gallon digester is well under way and expects the structure will open sometime in December for a reception, and will be producing energy by the close of first quarter 2010.

The unit is expected to produce about 485 kilowatts of electricity and 2 million Btu of thermal heat. Its feedstock will include food waste, crop waste, grass and manure.

A good partner

Halene praised the partnership between quasar and OSU, which has allowed quasar to become the first establishment in the newly formed BioHio Research Park along the City of Wooster’s Secrest Road.

He said there are still some hurdles to climb in terms of proper permitting of the facility, but expects those issues will soon be resolved.

In addition to producing energy, digesters still leave behind a valuable waste product that can be marketed as fertilizer, or as a form of livestock bedding.

“You used to pay to get rid of the effluent, now you get paid ‘for’ it,” Halene said.

Facility tours

Following indoor presentations, the group toured OSU’s Bioenergy Center, where quasar research is performed.

Professor Yebo Li and his students explained the process of wet storage “and” pretreatment of corn stover for ethanol production. The result is reduced processing times.

Li and his students also are working on ways to produce polyurethane foam from by-products during the creation of biodiesel.
Attendees also saw the much smaller pilot digesters being used inside the laboratory to research and improve anaerobic digestion. The lab houses eight pilot units, each about shoulder-high.

Modern feed mill

Also on the tour was OARDC’s new $5.5 million Feedstock Processing Research Facility, which was partly completed with funds from a Third Frontier Project grant.

The facility can handle 8,000 tons of feed per year, compared to 1,200 tons at the old mill, built in 1965. Storage capacity, mixing capabilities, grinding and pelleting abilities have also improved.

This was OSU’s second Renewable Energy Workshop, an annual project co-sponsored by the University and Wayne County Sustainable Energy Network.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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