Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: renewable energy

Innovating dairy digester research

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and cooperative extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine runs experiments in capturing biogas.

California leads the nation in agricultural production, producing nearly all the nation's leafy green vegetables, most nut and fruit varieties, and is ranked first in egg and dairy production.

What that means is that California also produces a lot of agricultural waste materials, including lots of manure.

Historically these waste materials have been used as a rich source of compost. However, researchers at UC Cooperative Extension are researching innovative uses for this material. 

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on better ways to manage waste material for both large and small farms. Dr. Pandey researches how to convert the organic matter in manure and other waste materials into a renewable energy source that can be used to power our state.

Converting manure to renewable energy

California gets over 27% of its energy from renewable resources like solar wind, and hydroelectric. Our goal is 50% renewable energy by 2030. California is taking steps towards this goal by building a network of dairy digesters which use bacteria to break down dairy manure and convert it into biogas. Clean burning fuels, such as biogas, are a sustainable source for generating energy because when they are burned, harmful by products are not produced.

Big bonus

A bonus is that the solid material left after the digesters have done their job is a fertilizer that can be used to grow the fruits, vegetables and nuts that our state is famous for. This type of fertilizer contains nutrients that are more readily available for plants because the digestion process breaks up organic materials more efficiently than traditional composting. The digestion process also helps reduce the number of harmful bacteria found in manure, making it much safer for use on plants grown for human food.

California leading in discovery and innovation

When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. People like Dr. Pandey are driving forward research and technology to minimize the impact of agriculture production on the environment. When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. His multidisciplinary approach to solving this complex problem of agricultural waste materials and water/air quality helps improve the economic wellbeing of farmers, and benefits Californians by providing nutrients for safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

While the importance of California's agriculture might be huge, its footprint on the environment doesn't have to be, and it is researchers like Dr. Pramod Pandey who are ensuring our state leads in discovery and innovation for many harvests to come.

Heather Johnson, Instructional Systems Designer, Gregory Wlasiuk, E-Learning Curriculum Designer, and Dr. Sara Garcia, Project Scientist, with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis, provided the script for the video which was used in this story. View Heather, Sara and Greg's filming and editing skills in the video below. Greg provides the narration. 

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 2:27 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Innovation

Biodigester turns campus waste into campus energy

Campus and community food and yard waste will be put inside large, white, oxygen-deprived tanks. Bacterial microbes in the tanks feast on the waste, converting it into clean energy that feeds the campus electrical grid. (graphic: Russ Thebaud/UC Davis)
More than a decade ago, Ruihong Zhang, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis, started working on a problem: How to turn as much organic waste as possible into as much renewable energy as possible.

Last week, on Earth Day, the university and Sacramento-based technology partner CleanWorld unveiled the UC Davis Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester (READ) at the campus' former landfill. Here, the anaerobic digestion technology Zhang invented is being used inside large, white, oxygen-deprived tanks. Bacterial microbes in the tanks feast on campus and community food and yard waste, converting it into clean energy that feeds the campus electrical grid.

“This technology can change the way we manage our solid waste,” Zhang said. “It will allow us to be more economically and environmentally sustainable."

It is the third commercial biodigester CleanWorld has opened using Zhang's technology within the past two years and is the nation's largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus.

The system is designed to convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity each day using state-of-the-art generators, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13,500 tons per year.

The READ BioDigester encompasses several of the university's goals: reducing campus waste in a way that makes both economic and environmental sense, generating renewable energy, and transferring technology developed at UC Davis to the commercial marketplace.

The biodigester will enable the more than 100 million tons of organic waste each year that is currently being landfilled in the U.S. to be converted to clean energy and soil products. The READ BioDigester is a closed loop system, moving from farm to fork to fuel and back to farm. Whatever is not turned into biogas to generate renewable electricity can be used as fertilizer and soil amendments — 4 million gallons of it per year, which could provide natural fertilizers for an estimated 145 acres of farmlands each day.

Nearly half of the organic waste, or feedstock, needed to operate the biodigester to full benefit will come from UC Davis dining halls, animal facilities and grounds. CleanWorld is working with area food processing and distribution centers to supply the remaining amount. Meanwhile, UC Davis will earn 100 percent of the project's green energy and carbon credits and receive all of the electricity generated.

Anaerobic digestion is an age-old process. However, Zhang's patented technology made it more efficient — capable of eating a broader variety and bigger quantity of waste, turning it into clean energy faster and more consistently than other commercial anaerobic biodigesters.

View a video about the UC David biodigester here:

(This blog post is condensed from a UC Davis news release about the biodigester.)

Additional information:

Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 6:34 AM

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