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Voinovich School Hosts Waste to Fuel Bioenergy Open House

Earlier this month, the Athens community was invited to observe a waste to fuel bioenergy process that turns waste from the dining halls and other compostable matter into fuel and fertilizer at the Ohio University Compost facility at The Ridges.

The Bioenergy Open House showcased the work of Voinovich School staff, graduate students and scholars in their research of biogas collection. The ongoing project has been conducted inside a greenhouse, which houses the anaerobic digester. Equipped with dry digestion units, a single wet digestion unit and hydroponics system, the team observes the ways in which fossil fuels can be displaced during the composting process.

The compostable matter currently being tested includes food waste from the dining halls, bioenergy crops grown in the Land Lab and compostable service ware from local events, collected by Rural Action’s Zero Waste Event Productions.

The anaerobic digester eliminates oxygen that would be present during a usual decomposition process, so that more methane and less carbon dioxide is produced. The methane may then be captured and compressed into fuel. Because this project is only in the primary stages of development, a compressor is not yet part of the equation. Once data collection is complete, the team is interested in purchasing a compressor to move along in their research.

“Technology wise, we’re looking into the compressor because it’s obviously a critical component of actually generating energy, which we look to do next spring,” said undergraduate and Voinovich scholar Esther Grossman, assistant to one of the lead researchers Kim Miller. “Right now we’re still collecting data. When we have a full data set, especially for this period of May through November, or whenever our digester dies, we can start to pick out whether the wet digestion or the dry digestion is producing more methane, and what inputs kept it at the best level of production.”

The ultimate goal of the team is to turn the project into a large-scale, functional facility for the university and further research.

“They [Ohio University] already have this facility, and they’re already bringing compost up here every day,” said Grossman. “If there was also a plant here that was turning all of that into energy, that could save the university a lot of money and I think they’d definitely be interested in that.”

The Open House featured an inside look at the anaerobic digester, as well as tours of the Ohio University Compost facility, the largest in-vessel composting system at any college or university in the nation, and field tours of advanced bioenergy crops planted and researched in the Land Lab.

Photos by Alexa Smith and Alexandria Polanosky

Alexa, strategic communications major, spanish minor, and environmental certificate candidate, hopes to one day become a tree. Her best friends are plants and the occasional human that can keep it chill. You will always find her with music in her ears and in her head, whistling or even grooving to an unheard tune. When there’s time to breath, she enjoys floating in water, looking at the sky, and cooking delicious, flavorful food. 

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