Minnesota Dairy Runs Hydrogen Fuel Cell on Biogas

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

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Demonstration project with university researchers involves cleaning biogas to develop renewable energy options for farmers.

A MINNESOTA dairy - the Haubenschild family farm near Princeton - is making history by becoming the first demonstration project in the world to run a hydrogen fuel cell from the biogas captured from cows. For five years, as reported in BioCycle, the Haubenschilds have been operating an anaerobic digester to process manure from their cows (now numbering 900) as well as recycled newspaper used as bedding. The hydrogen fuel cell is the latest innovative project on the farm. Once the biogas from the digester is cleaned, it is converted to hydrogen fuel which produces electricity in the fuel cell.

In 2003, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) was awarded a grant ($221,000) to conduct fuel cell research using digester biogas as fuel. According to Matt Drewitz of the MDA, funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR). Along with the MDA, Haubenschild, the University of Minnesota Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department, and the Minnesota Project are all partners in this project. The purpose is to investigate use of alternative technologies for producing electricity from biogas produced from livestock. The project focus was on technologies that have the potential to be more environmentally friendly and easier to maintain than conventional engine generator systems. The fuel cell was selected as the technology to research. Through this project, the University of Minnesota has looked at a number of aspects of employing a fuel cell with anaerobic digestion, which include: fuel cell type, installation and operation, gas clean up, fuel cell emissions, and economic feasibility.

A small portion of biogas from an the existing plug flow anaerobic manure digester on the Haubenschild dairy farm was routed into a research building that housed the fuel cell, gas clean up equipment, and monitoring equipment. A 5 kW proton electron membrane (PEM) fuel cell (Plug Power Inc.) was used for the research project. University of Minnesota researchers (Dr. Phil Goodrich, Rich Huelskamp, and David Nelson) worked on developing and implementing the gas piping and monitoring strategy. The greatest challenge was cleaning the biogas of impurities (H2O, CO2, and H2S) so it could be safely used in the fuel cell and its reformer. In January, 2005, the fuel cell was operational on pure natural gas and in February, 2005 the fuel cell was run on biogas for the first time. At this point, the fuel cell has only been run intermittently on biogas for a few hours at a time. Data has been collected on the performance of the fuel cell and also the emissions given off during operation when using biogas. The University of Minnesota researchers are anticipating running the fuel cell continuously for longer durations in the near future. For more information, contact Dr. Phil Goodrich with the University of Minnesota at goodrich@tc.umn.edu.

“Expansion of energy harvesting and conversion to rural areas will bring business expansion, jobs and continued vitality,” says Goodrich. “Fuel cells and anaerobic digestion are part of this opportunity. Hydrogen may be one of the primary drivers of the economy within 10 years, since it is clean, can be stored, and does not pollute the atmosphere.”

 

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