As the world Embraces Biogas Innovations: Michigan State University Researchers Studies New Methods to Harness Renewable Energy.

A group of researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) is actively exploring methods to harness renewable energy from waste produced on dairy farms to power electric vehicles. The team, led by Wei Liao, a professor in MSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and the director of the Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center (ADREC), recently organized a workshop demonstrating the innovative research connecting dairy operations with the automotive industry.

The workshop featured Wei Liao, animal science professor Barry Bradford, BAE professor Ajit Srivastava, dairy farm manager Jim Good, and BAE research specialist and ADREC manager Sibel Uludag-Demirer. The highlight was an electric tractor designed by Srivastava, which operates using renewable electricity generated by a mobile EV charging station. This station incorporates an anaerobic digester and external combustion energy.

Despite a significant portion of the US dairy industry consisting of small- and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 1,000 cows, dairy remains a prominent agricultural commodity in Michigan, contributing nearly 5% to the state’s GDP. Liao envisions the deployment of mobile EV charging units on these smaller dairy farms to support the state’s transition towards electric vehicle production and reduce carbon emissions from gasoline-powered cars.

Liao’s aspiration is to not only provide rural farmers the means to charge their EVs but also to create revenue streams by offering charging services to others. This concept aims to forge a beneficial link between the agriculture and automotive sectors, with both industries reaping advantages. Moreover, Liao’s efforts align with the objective of making the dairy industry carbon-neutral or achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

Liao emphasizes that about 45% of the carbon present in animal feed ends up in manure, and a portion of it is released as methane—a potent greenhouse gas if not captured—into the atmosphere. By utilizing waste for valuable applications such as electricity generation and EV charging, this initiative transforms a climate concern into a solution.

Michigan State University’s South Campus Anaerobic Digester (SCAD) exemplifies this approach by converting organic waste from food and animals into energy. The SCAD, operational since 2013, has processed approximately 60,000 tons of manure. In 2022 alone, it digested 12,500 tons of manure from MSU’s dairy farm and 15,000 tons of food waste from the university’s cafeterias and the Lansing region. This digester generates around 2.8 million kWh of electricity annually, with 10% powering its operations and the rest contributing to ten buildings on the campus.

While the mobile charging units Liao envisions won’t match the SCAD’s output, they are expected to generate 30 kWh of renewable energy per day or over 10,950 kWh per year. Although not sufficient to power an entire farm, this energy could prove advantageous in various farm operations. For instance, it could recharge batteries for emerging electric skid-steer loaders or small tractors used for cleaning animal pens.

Barry Bradford, involved in the project to assess its impact on dairy farms, suggests that electric charging stations on these farms could provide economic opportunities. As electric vehicles gain popularity and users seek charging locations, dairy farms could offer a viable solution, enabling visitors to charge their cars while experiencing the farm’s activities. The longer charging times of EVs compared to filling gasoline tanks could encourage farm visitors to engage in activities such as purchasing food items or taking farm tours.

Funding for this initiative stems from multiple sources, including MSU AgBioResearch, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, MSU Extension, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service. The collaborative effort aims to bridge the gap between agriculture and sustainable energy while offering potential benefits to farmers, the environment, and local economies.

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  • Samson Adeyemo

    An experienced broadcast and print media journalist with nose for news and proven track records of success without compromising objectivity.

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