OARDC Receives NorTech Innovation Award for Bio-energy Initiative

September 15, 2005

WOOSTER, Ohio — The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) is looking for new ways to meet the energy challenges currently facing the United States from a very unusual source — waste generated by farming and food-processing operations.

OARDC's efforts to optimize technologies for the conversion of Ohio's abundant biomass into clean energy have won the Center one of seven 2005 NorTech Innovation Awards, presented Sept. 13 in Westlake, Ohio. OARDC — the research arm of Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — was the only university entity given the award.

“OARDC is very pleased to be recognized as a breakthrough innovator by NorTech,” said OARDC Director Steve Slack. “We are excited about the potential to generate energy from bio-renewable resources, which has significant implications for the future energy needs of the United States.”

Launched in 1999, NorTech (www.nortech.org) is a technology-based economic development organization focused on continuous improvement of northeast Ohio's technology environment and economy. The awards honor individuals, companies and non-profit organizations from the area that “have produced successful products and processes that will likely have a dramatic effect on the future of our global technology economy and merit significant attention.”

NorTech recognized OARDC's “Biomass to Energy” research project for its potential to convert waste products into a useful energy source and for the efficiency of such conversion, which produces a fuel comparable or superior in quality to commercial fuel sources at an equal or lower cost.

Ohio's biomass, rich in agricultural and food-processing wastes, is capable of producing at least 65 percent of Ohio's residential electricity needs, according to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, the Ohio Department of Development and the U.S. Department of Energy. These resources, however, have not been tapped for their full potential and most often represent an environmental liability and financial burden to agribusinesses and food manufacturers alike.

That's where OARDC comes in. Funded by a $1.5 million Third Frontier Project award and $1.74 million in federal funds secured through the assistance of U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, OARDC is planning to establish a pioneering bio-energy research facility on its Wooster campus. The facility's aim is to optimize different technologies — such as anaerobic digestion and fuel cells — for the biological conversion of biomass into scalable energy systems.

“This will be one of the first systems to test and demonstrate at sizable scale the use of fuel cells to provide electrical energy from biomass,” said OARDC animal scientist Floyd Schanbacher, one of the project leaders. “It can open a whole host of energy generation opportunities not currently available, applicable to both small and large operations in state, national and world markets.”

The facility, which will complement ongoing biomass conversion research at OARDC, will include a set of 1,600-gallon anaerobic digesters especially designed to handle industrial food-processing wastes — which are stronger than manure but can produce several times more energy. Also in the facility will be solid-oxide fuel cells, which can use either liquids or biogas to produce energy.

Besides being capable of handling a variety of fuels that are not clean, which is expected of renewable fuels, another plus of this fuel-cell system is that it's manufactured in Ohio by Cleveland's Technology Management Inc. (TMI) — one of several industry partners in the project.

“This is another way this project fosters Ohio development, tapping into the state's effort to become a leader in fuel-cell development,” Schanbacher said.

Also planned is an industrial-size facility that will allow businesses to test their feedstocks and calculate their potential energy yield. Interested industries would then be able to determine the feasibility of setting up their own biomass processing plants.

Supported in part by line-item appropriations from the Ohio General Assembly and with locations on Ohio State's Columbus and Wooster campuses, OARDC (www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) is the largest and most comprehensive agricultural research facility in the United States.

-30-

Author(s): 
Mauricio Espinoza
Source(s): 
Floyd Schanbacher