May 21, 2009
by Noelle Stapinsky
Capturing gas from biological waste to create energy has been experimented with for centuries. In fact, one of the first noted anaerobic digestion systems—a process that breaks down biodegradable materials to create methane and carbon dioxide biogas as a replacement for fossil fuels—was built in Bombay, India in 1859 to provide energy to a leper colony.
A similar process was used in 1895 in England where biogas was recovered from a sewage treatment facility to fuel street lamps. And when early North American settlers hit the open prairies where wood and grass were hard to come by, they gathered dried buffalo excrement (called buffalo chips or meadow muffins) for evening fires.
You’ll even find biogas in the movies. Who could forget the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? That ramshackle compound called Bartertown was powered by methane gas generated from an underground pigsty.
In the real, modern world, there have been many advancements in this technology. It accommodates a variety of waste materials, integrates cogeneration and even creates bio-products.
But a Calgary-based company has achieved a major breakthrough.
EarthRenew has developed a proprietary heat-processing technology that increases fuel efficiency, creates electricity and produces an advanced hybrid fertilizer, all with one special ingredient—fresh cow manure.
When the company began in 1999, it used food processing and manufacturing technologies to cook raw manure and make a fertilizer that could be used by traditional agricultural spreaders, says EarthRenew founder and CEO Christianne Carin.
But in 2001, when gas prices skyrocketed and pummeled the heat-processing industries, EarthRenew went back to the drawing board to find a way to offset the cost of the heating process.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we pull out the gas burner and apply the exhaust directly onto the materials? The turbine can be used to generate electricity and the excess electricity could be sold to pay for the natural gas,’” Carin explains.