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A Two-Stage Process for Hydrogen Production from Cattle Manure

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.



Isn't it easier just to produce methane? If you are producing H2 does that mean there is an opportunity to capture the remaining carbon for burial?


I wonder how you will get all the hydrogen from the feed lots to all the hydrogen fueling stations to fill those FC SUVs.


The farmers can fill up their fuel cell tractors ;) or use a stationary stack to power the rest of their operations.


If they just make methane they can fill the natural gas pipes and be CO2 neutral, the animals eat the plants.

Harvey D.

Would it be more economical to use the cow mature directly to fertilize the land used to feed the cows (and humans)?

Any recent cost studies on advantages-disadvantages of different types of transformation of cow-pig-horse-chhicken manure?


Niel, anaerobic digesters are all over the country at dairy sites. I agree with you, providing power from these farms with net metering is a plus. Turn poo into power. Right now California has made cow poo methane digesters to power turbines into a state program. 600MW comes to mind. This is just another step in the right direction. Now just PHEV tractors :-) From Poo to Plows


Andy - right, and a step closer to swords into plowshares...


is there a reason human waste cant be used for this
you always read about cow waste. our waste is already colleted at sewage plants ?


Toilets of the future ... containing their own hydrogen extractor that feeds into your car. Big families can travel farther. Constipation in the morning makes you late for work :)


Kevin: Try these also.

AlgaeCulture has a huge future! Three cheers


Kevin, waste (water) treatment plants already create lots of methane and use it to power the opperations. Take a look at any waste treatment plant near you and I bet you find out that this is true.


Most of the soft-skinned vegetables we eat at winter, like tomatoes and cucumbers, are grown in hot houses. In order to conserve heat at cold weather, hot houses are tightly closed, and plants very quickly adsorb most of CO2 available, inhibiting the growth. To alleviate this problem, so-called carbon fertilization is used widely, routinely, and quite for a long time. Exhaust from adjacent space heaters burning clean fuels (NG or LPG practically exclusively) is cooled and routed to hot house. Optimal CO2 level for tomatoes is 750ppm for cloudy day and 1000ppm for sunny day – about three times higher than current (already elevated) level of 340 ppm CO2 in atmosphere. Carbon fertilization increases harvest yield by about 20%:

The biggest effect carbon fertilization has on trees, but all plants benefit from it. In closed environment trials, doubling of CO2 level in ground level air increases rate of growth for orange and coniferous trees by about 30% in wet conditions and up to 60% at dry conditions (due to reduced evaporation losses). For commercially grown wheat doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial 250ppm to 500ppm yields about 14% more grain.

Substantially higher biomass accumulation rates, attributed to increase of atmospheric CO2 from 250 to current 340ppm, are the main reason of substantial biomass growing rate increase in Amazon rainforest and in American coniferous forests. According to official data, during last 40 years standing tree mass in US forests increased 30%, mostly due to carbon fertilization, rather then re-forestation.

It is funny to think, that winter salad I eat is almost entirely built from captured fossil fuel carbon.

As I understand, algae has way higher efficiency of sun light utilization then any land-growing plant. Any numbers on it?


Andrey I have heard 30X


Technofixes are cheap & easy !
Real life is quite a bit more complicated, infinitely more complex. Before doing the technofixes there's a lot to fix first. The inhumanity, cruelty and horror is simply beyond belief. You simply don't know, are completely ignorant & un-educated, or ... don't care. But please take a look:


Current CO2 concentrations, vs 250 years ago, are ~36% higher. Perhaps there is already some sort of carbon fertilization going, especially at higher altitudes, in the thinner air. On plateaus, high plains, and mountainsides, plants would do a bit better than otherwise. Warmer climate and longer growing season also helps, but muddles the coorelation of more favorable climate, carbon fertilization and increased plant growth.

Rafael Seidl

I suspect these researchers are focusing on hydrogen only because that's where the grant money happens to be right now.

It's actually quite difficult to eliminate all traces of H2S from digester gas, which is why the preferred route in densely populated places like London or Paris is to dry the sludge and burn it to generate electricity. Instead of a steam cycle, you can also use a gasifier and a specially adapted stationary ICE. The waste heat from combustion is recycled to the drying process.

The fossil fuel consumption avoided is not really all that great. However, in terms of GHG emission reductions, it's far simpler and cheaper than trying to run FCVs on biohydrogen derived from the stuff.


I have a concrete example of Rafael's point. A fellow I know is working to develop a small BEV. He discovered that all of the research grants are for hydrogen. (we all know why) He is thinking of adding a small trickle charging PEV fuel cell just so he can get some research grants.



Correction. Both primary (settled) and secondary (excess of aerobic activated sludge) are very difficult to dewater, hence drying it to the level when it will burn requires more energy than will be produced from it incineration. That’s why all sewage sludge is digested in anaerobic digesters. Digestion significantly reduces amount of sludge, and digested sludge is much easier to dewater on belt press (centrifuges were also used).

Unfortunately, sewage from big cities and industrial zones is still highly contaminated by heavy metals, which limits application of digested sewage sludge as fertilizer only to occasional non-agricultural uses, like one-time application when new trees are planted. Surplus of such sewage sludge is really often combusted – to minimize cost of waste disposal. Surplus of energy from combustion of still wet after all treatments sludge is minimal.


There are two ways in:
a) DOT, DOE, or DARPA energy research.
b) Earmarks fromyour local politician.


Algae adn cyanobacteria currently have yields of 50 dry biomass tons/acre/year yields. Up to half can be lipids/fats similar to vegetable oil. The remainder is mostly starches/sugar polymers and proteins. This comes out to ~6,600 gallons of oil to be converted to other fuels. Syngased biomass comes out to ~114 gallons/ton, and 2,850ga/acre ethanol.
_Solar to chemical energy conversion efficiency is ~2% when measuring the end results. Photosynthesis has a ~11% efficiency. The discrepancy is due to algae/cyanobacteria using most of the energy for growth, maintenance, and reproduction of itself.


...yields up to ~50 tons/acre/year.


u need help for that research?????????????????????????????????hydrogen tech!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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