The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, University of Illinois-Chicago and Ameren Renewable Energy are studying the feasibility of using methane gas from hog manure to generate heat and power at The Maschhoffs pork production business in Carlyle, Ill.

According to Rich Wright, an executive with Ameren, the company's Renewable Energy team has been exploring several renewable energy options, but this is the first project ready to be announced publicly. 

Ameren contracted with Roseville, Minn.-based energy consultants Sebesta Blomberg & Associates to conduct the study, which will conclude at the end of May. If the results are favorable, Ameren would work to have an anaerobic digester and generator installed at the site by year's end.

Manure collected from The Maschhoffs' farm would be stored in the digester. Methane gas would then be siphoned off and be used to power the generator, which may have the potential to produce between 200 and 400 kilowatts of electricity. The farm would use the electricity, which has a peak electric demand of more than 700 kilowatts. Heat created by the generator would be used to heat the digester.

"It would be a good deal for The Maschhoffs because it would collect a waste byproduct -- methane gas -- from the manure and convert it to energy for use on the farm," says Wright.

The project also has a range of benefits for Ameren.  "The primary benefit would be renewable energy credits, or carbon-dioxide-offset credits, that Ameren could obtain to use in responding to various future government initiatives," says Paul Pike, Ameren strategic analyst. He notes that as a "greenhouse gas," methane is 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide, meaning that each one-ton emission of methane gas captured and converted to energy equals 21 tons of carbon dioxide not released into the environment.

"The fact that these energy or offset credits are locally generated also is a benefit to the region rather, than buying credits from another state or country," Pike says.

Ameren worked with the Illinois EPA to select The Maschhoff site after considering several other swine farms in the state.

Illinois currently ranks No. 5 nationally in pork production, and Wright says the Illinois EPA had been looking for ways to promote a carbon-dioxide-sequestration program that rewards farmers for eliminating greenhouse gases that are created by hog waste.

"It's great when government agencies can work with private industry on forward-looking projects that have the potential to provide critical resources while benefiting the environment," says Richard Breckenridge of the Illinois EPA.

Steffen Mueller of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Energy ResourcesCentersays the university will provide about 12 percent of the funding for the feasibility study with Ameren supplying the remainder.

"This project is consistent with our mission to promote efficient on-site power generation," says Mueller. "Our hope is that the study findings will not only allow this project to move forward, but will provide critical data needed to complete similar projects in the state."

If it moves forward, Ameren would work with The Maschhoffs to pursue an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant and other funds to support development of the digester and generator, Wright says.

Source: PR Newswire