Researchers at New Mexico State University are attempting to use cow manure and other organic solid wastes to produce hydrogen cost-effectively.
The researchers will develop and demonstrate a two-stage process to produce hydrogen from cattle manure. In the first stage, hydrogen will be produced through anaerobic hydrolysis and fermentation. In the second stage, additional hydrogen will be produced through photo-fermentation of the products of the first stage.
The principal investigator for the project is civil engineering professor Nirmala Khandan. The co-principal investigators are chemical engineering professor Shuguang Deng and biology professor Geoffrey Smith.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a three-year, $359,975 grant to support the research. This project is one of nine proposals out of 70 that the Bioengineering Division of NSF selected this year for funding.
We are using microorganisms that can break down the cattle manure, which is a solid, and convert it to a liquid form. That’s the hydrolysis part. Microorganisms can feed on only liquids; they cannot consume solids directly. They have a mechanism by which they can convert the solids into liquid first, and then consume the liquid. They consume the liquid to get energy for themselves, while producing hydrogen and other chemicals as byproducts. We want to capture the hydrogen that they are producing.
It’s a new process configuration, a new method that has not been done in many places. As far as I know, only about three other universities in the United States are doing this kind of work.—Nirmala Khandan
The team’s research will also lead to the construction of a bioreactor for hydrogen production. The reactor will be a unique configuration with two stages, one for each process.