ROLLA, Mo. - Research underway at Missouri University of Science and Technology is looking for a way to pump the gas from decomposing plants and animal waste directly into a vehicle’s fuel tank, and the technology could find its first home on the farm.
Decomposing biomass lets off two main gasses: methane and carbon dioxide. These can be captured from landfills or compost piles. The methane can be burned as fuel, but the carbon dioxide has to be separated first.
Fateme Rezaei , professor of biochemical engineering at Missouri S&T, is working on a fuel tank that could be put on a car, truck or farm implement that would separate the carbon dioxide and make the methane available to be burned to power the vehicle.
“We are able to store biogas in our tank and we are able to separate CO2 and methane on board,” Rezaei said.
The research funded in part by a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation is in the early stages, but has attracted the attention of a North Carolina-based company that is working to bring the technology to market.
The design includes a porous material inside the tank that would separate CO2 from methane so that it could be returned to the fueling station and used in industrial applications or sequestered so it would stay out of the atmosphere.
Since the fuel tank would be on board a vehicle, no pipelines or transportation are necessary. Rezaei said early uses of the technology could be on farms where there is both a lot of biomass and a need for fuel.
“If you are talking about farmers, you can use biogas to run your tractor or other vehicles,” Rezaei said. “Biowaste is plentiful in rural areas, and this technology would reduce the barriers to fueling vehicles with natural gas.”
Rezai also said as more farms adopt alternative energy like solar and wind, hydrogen extraction powered by those sources could be added to the methane to make a more fuel efficient and powerful farm implement.
“It would be like boosting the octane while also using less fuel,” Rezaei said.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl