Professor looks at using manure as a heat source

By Dale Johnson Posted: May 24, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Gordon Huang has received a research grant of $98,000 for two years.
Dr. Gordon Huang has received a research grant of $98,000 for two years. Photo courtesy Philip Zhou

An engineering professor at the University of Regina is looking at ways of converting manure for possible use for heating and power generation.

“The current practice for cattle manure disposal is to spread the manure on the land and recycle the nutrients through natural processes. However, land application of raw manure may not take full advantage of the nutrients contained in the manure,” explains Dr. Gordon Huang, a professor of Environmental Systems Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and Executive Director of the Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainable Communities (IEESC).

“In its practical applications, the resulting biogas can be used for heating and powering plants, farms, commercial buildings and residences. In addition, excess electricity can be sold to the provincial grid. This will then lead to direct savings in the related utility bills,” he says.

As well as providing a source of energy, Huang says the process could provide digestate, which appears to be similar to compost, that could be used as a soil conditioner.

“It has been reported that manure digestion can generate not only biogas for energy recovery, but also digestate that has similar yield responses to raw manure,” he says.

“Additionally, digestate is more homogeneous, has less odor and is easier to apply than raw manure. Digestion can thus add a net benefit of energy recovery to the life cycle of the manure, leading to direct economic benefits to Saskatchewan's agriculture industry.”

Huang's project is called "Enhanced Low-Temperature Anaerobic Digestion of Manure for Biogas Heating at Remote Farms.” IEESC's partners on this project are the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute and SaskMilk. The total amount awarded from the Agriculture Development Fund is $98,000 for two years. The funding will be used mainly for supporting graduate students.

In terms of the research strengths at the University of Regina, Huang says: “We have state-of-the-art labs and related research equipment and devices to facilitate this research. We are strong in environmental engineering. Thus, we extend our strength to environmental management for the agricultural sector – such as agricultural environmental management.”

Huang, a Canada Research Chair in Energy and Environment, believes there could be widespread applications to rural areas across Saskatchewan, which could bring about economic benefits.

“Results of this research will help improve practices in agricultural waste management, and bring large amounts of economic and environmental benefits to Saskatchewan producers and industries.”