OARDC Green Energy Technology Key to New $2 Million Third Frontier Grant

February 1, 2010

WOOSTER, Ohio — A recent $2 million grant awarded by the state of Ohio’s Third Frontier Advanced Energy Program to boost the amount of biogas produced from waste has at its core technology developed by Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

The grant was given to Cleveland-based quasar energy group (formerly Schmack BioEnergy) and several collaborators, including OARDC, Ohio State’s Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC), Rockwell Automation, Seaman Corporation, seepex and McCabe Engineering. OARDC will receive close to $1.5 million of the grant as a subcontract.

The main purpose of the award is to help commercialize an integrated anaerobic digestion system dubbed iADs, which can cost-effectively produce clean energy from both solid and liquid organic wastes through anaerobic digestion — a process in which microorganisms break down organic matter and yield biogas, in the absence of oxygen, inside a biodigester. Biogas can be used to generate electricity and thermal heat; it can also be cleaned, separated and dried to produce natural gas, or compressed to fuel automobiles (compressed natural gas, or CNG).

The iADs is an innovative (patent-pending) technology developed by Yebo Li, a biosystems engineer in OARDC’s Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering and a specialist with OSU Extension. The system is called “integrated” because it combines a liquid biodigester (which processes wastes such as manure and sewer sludge) and Li’s “solid-state” digestion technology (which allows for the production of methane from various sources of cellulosic biomass, such as yard trimmings and crop residue).

The Third Frontier funds will make it possible for quasar to demonstrate iADs technology at its flagship biogas facility currently being built on OARDC’s Wooster campus, adding a solid-state digestion system to its liquid biodigester. The integrated system will be able to process over 30,000 wet tons of biomass annually with more than 750 kW of electrical generation capacity.

“The Third Frontier award will allow quasar to expedite the development of a strong supplier chain of Ohio vendors to manufacture the digester components while reducing costs and retaining and creating jobs in the region,” said Mel Kurtz, president of quasar.

Anaerobic digestion has been utilized in the United States for years to treat manure and sewer sludge and to produce methane for various energy applications. In fact, quasar operates a plant that processes Akron’s municipal waste and is gearing up to install several similar systems throughout Ohio.

What’s new about the iADs is its potential for significantly enhancing biogas production and making this technology more economically feasible for large renewable energy generation in places with large biomass resources — such as Ohio. Adding Li’s solid-state digesting technology to a liquid biodigester could double the system’s biogas production capabilities.

“Biogas comes from the solids present in the anaerobic digestion process,” explained Li, who began collaborating with quasar after the company established its engineering office and a lab on the OARDC campus in 2008. “Current liquid-phase anaerobic digesters used in the United States can only process up to 14 percent solids content. My system has been successfully tested with 20-40 percent solids content, substantially increasing biogas production efficiency compared to existing systems.”

Li has been able to boost biogas production in the solid-state anaerobic digester by treating solid waste with a byproduct of the liquid anaerobic digestion process: the effluent left over when digestion is done. This effluent is rich in the type of microorganisms that help break down solid organic matter during biodigestion.

His technology, Li said, results in several benefits: “More biogas can be produced, various sources of cellulosic biomass can be incorporated into the anaerobic digestion process, the need for effluent management is eliminated, and the solids that are leftover in the process can be sold as natural fertilizer.”

quasar is the first tenant of OARDC’s planned BioHio Research Park — a unique business and technology center aimed at moving ideas and products from the laboratory to the marketplace in areas such as food safety, renewable energy and materials, and environmental remediation. The company’s flagship biogas facility is also the first structure erected on BioHio’s main 95-acre site on the northern edge of the Wooster campus, which last year benefitted from utility upgrades and access road improvements made possible by a $3.4 million grant from the Ohio Department of Development’s Job Ready Sites program and matching funds from the city of Wooster.

“We are very pleased that patentable technology generated by our faculty has commercial and economic relevance for the state of Ohio,” OARDC Director Steve Slack said. “OARDC has a strong and productive history of collaborative work with Ohio industry, and this latest Third Frontier award to quasar exemplifies such relationships.”

The research arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, OARDC has worked closely with over 100 companies on sponsored research projects during the past five years.

More information about quasar and OARDC’s bionergy and bioproduct initiatives can be found at http://quasarenergygroup.com, http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/bioenergy, and http://bioproducts.osu.edu.

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Author(s): 
Mauricio Espinoza
Source(s): 
Yebo Li