Converting hog manure to crude oil seems like a stretch, but that what University of Illinois researchers are proposing to do. U of I scientists have teamed with industry partners to design a pilot plant for a large commercial livestock farm that will convert swine manure to crude oil.

The pilot plant is based on research led by Yuanhui Zhang, an agricultural and biological engineer at the U of I. Zhang and colleagues developed a system using thermochemical conversion to transform organic compounds (like swine manure) in a heated and pressurized enclosure to produce oil and gas.

"The process we developed is different from most conventional TCC processes," says Zhang. "There is no need for the addition of a catalyst, and our process doesn’t require pre-drying of the manure."

Zhang's team has achieved as high as 70-percent conversion from swine manure volatile solids to oil. At that conversion efficiency, the manure excreted by one pig during the production cycle could produce up to 21 gallons of crude oil and add a $10 per pig profit. Worldwide BioEnergy is working with the U of I to build the pilot plant.

Les Christianson, an agricultural and biological engineer at U of I and the industry liaison for Zhang's team, is optimistic about the potential for the manure-to-oil process. "We believe that this can be economically feasible on a commercial scale," he says. "U of I has given an exclusive, primary license to WWBE to commercialize the technology.”

In the meantime, Zhang’s team has expanded his research to determine if other types of livestock manure, and even human waste, can be used as feedstock for the TCC process.

WWBE sublicensed Innoventor Engineering and BioCrude to construct and operate the first commercial-sized systems for swine manure and human waste.

The overall goal of the project is to eventually increase profits for the U.S. pork industry and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign crude oil.

University of Illinois news release