Buzz up! By J.B. Smith Tribune-Herald staff writer
Friday, December 18, 2009
To critics who object to making ethanol fuel out of grain, Larry Lehr, of Waco, has an ecology-minded answer: Run it through a cow first.
Lehr, who teaches environmental science at Baylor University, is planning to build a manure-to-ethanol demonstration plant at a model dairy that Tarleton State University is building in Stephenville.
Lehr and his Waco business partner, Norm Burgess, have already used a $250,000 Texas Emerging Technology grant for research into converting animal waste into fuel-grade ethanol. Now their firm, called Environmental Quality Management Associates, is applying for another $750,000 to build the demonstration plant in Stephenville next year.
The project will be designed to turn the manure from the dairy’s 400 cows into pure ethanol that can be blended with gasoline as fuel. Unlike conventional ethanol, it would require no fossil fuels to produce. The distillery would run on methane from a manure digester.
The byproduct of the distillations would include concentrated nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer, which could be packaged and sold. And carbon dioxide emissions from the process might even be used to grow algae that could be turned into biofuel.
But the main purpose is to develop systems that dairy farmers can buy to turn their herds’ waste into a profitable commodity instead of allowing it to pollute streams, Lehr said.
“The focus is not particularly on alcohol fuels,” he said. “It’s a pollution remediation project. What’s the value of clean water, or of a dairy farmer being able to increase herd size and decrease pollution?”
Baylor's Larry Lehr is hoping to build a manure-to-ethanol plant in Stephenville. (Jerry Larson photo, file)
Many of the dairies in the Stephenville area drain into the North Bosque watershed, which feeds Lake Waco, and city of Waco officials have long blamed them for algae problems in the lake.
If the ethanol technology is successful and widely adopted, it could solve some of those problems, said Don Cawthon, resident director of the Texas AgriLife Center in Stephenville and dean of Tarleton’s College of Agriculture and Human Sciences.
“We’re hoping to resolve some of the environmental issues in the Bosque River area and, beyond that, to all concentrated animal feeding operations nationwide, by diverting all the animal waste out of the watershed and converting it into energy,” he said. “The second outcome could be helping achieve the president’s energy plan to convert 25 percent of our energy to renewable energy.”