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Researchers find ways to turn manure into power

Record oil prices and incentives to find alternative fuel sources are lighting a fire under research to turn biomass materials such as manure into energy.

Texas Senate Bill 20, signed this week by Gov. Rick Perry, compliments research underway to determine how and where biomass can be used. The new law requires more renewable energy to be developed and used in the next 10 years.

Combining consumer energy needs and agriculture industry trends with the legislation will push the research to become reality, said Dr. John Sweeten, resident director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at the Texas A&M University System Agriculture Research and Extension Center here.

Researchers have long worked with manure as a fertilizer and have studied ways to convert it into energy, but this latest push of legislation and research should result in more energy projects becoming a reality, Sweeten said.

Research is concentrating on finding alternative uses for the growing supplies of manure, Sweeten said. Irrigated cropland use of manure as a fertilizer is dwindling, but the livestock industry is growing.

Other trends contributing to a potential excess are increasing imports of grain-based nutrients to feed the cattle; less irrigation water; and the switch to crops which use less water and require fewer nutrients.

"Things are in reasonable shape now, but in 10, 20 or 30 years from now, we need to have alternate uses that are not based exclusively on land application," he said.

Energy production has been researched for more than 20 years, but "$60 a barrel oil recruits a lot of interest in biomass," Sweeten said.

"The question becomes, how do you convert biomass into energy?" he said.

The solid feedlot waste presents a different challenge than the liquid waste from hog or dairy operations, Sweeten said. Researchers are trying to determine what process and what mix of the product will create the most useab
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Source:Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications


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