ARS Center Searches for "Opportunity Fuels"
Comis March 30, 2007
The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center (BARC)
is doing a feasibility study on construction of a 1- to 2-megawatt research and
development gasification facility to generate electricity and steam for BARC
labs, offices and farm buildings.
The unit would use a variety of feedstocks, and the technology could
be transferable to rural communities and farm cooperatives. BARC is operated by
the Agricultural Research Service (ARS),
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
in-house scientific research agency. The study is being done under an agreement
with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Gasification is a process of burning biomasswhether animal
wastes or other materialsto turn it into a fuel gas that can be used
directly for heat or electricity or further converted into a variety of liquid
fuels. The study should be ready sometime in mid- to late April.
Smith, research leader of the ARS
Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory at Beltsville, and
colleagues are growing poplar trees and switchgrass to study the plants'
ability to use excess nutrients from animal manures, add carbon to the soil,
and provide feedstocks for bioenergy. If successful, such plants could help
protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and help provide energy for farms
and rural communities. At other ARS locations, switchgrass is being studied for
cellulosic ethanol production.
The idea is for the 6,500-acre BARC to demonstrate the use of wastes
as "opportunity fuels," using whatever farm products are in excess or available
at the time fuel is needed. For example, BARC composts 11,850 cubic yards of
manure each year. This comes from the farm's livestockcows, pigs, sheep,
goats, turkeys and chickensabout 5,000 to 6,000 animals.
Smith also studies biogas (methane) production from the wastes from
the BARC dairy. Biogas can be used to produce heat and electricity for use on
BARC has been running all of its diesel vehicles and equipment and
backup generators on B20 biodiesel fuel since 1999.