Producing Oil from Pig Manure

Researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, led by Dr. Yuanhui Zhang, have developed a system that converts pig manure into crude oil on an industrial scale. This development is the culmination of a ten year research and development project that, in effect, makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The technology works by a thermochemical process that uses heat and pressure to break down the pig manure hydrocarbon chains. The end product consists of methane, water, carbon dioxide, water, and oil. The new pilot plant allows the conversion of pig manure in a continuous process, rather than a batch at a time, making the production of “pig oil” more feasible.

Pig manure has advantages over raw materials, like wood sludge, because the pig has already done most of the work. The pig has already biologically done most of the necessary processing.

A typical hog on a modern American farm produces about six gallons of body waste per day. While some of this product is used for fertilizer, the storing and processing of the stuff has been a major environmental problem on modern hog farms. When manure leeches into a water supply due to runoff it harms aquatic life by decreasing the oxygen available to fish, water plants, and other organisms. And, of course, the smell can be just overpowering.

If Dr. Yuanhui Zhang is correct, a typical hog would be able to produce 3.6 gallons of crude oil per day using his process. With a hundred million hogs on American farms, it takes very little math to determine that “pig oil” could make a significant dent in the energy needs of the United States. And a farmer could add up to ten dollars of profit per pig.

Dr. Yuanhui Zhang and his team now propose to build a pilot plant to test the conversion system, to make sure that his numbers in the lab can be replicated on the farm. Research is also ongoing to find out if other farm animal manure, cow and chicken for instance, could be used in the process. Human waste is already chemically similar to pig manure and could be used in the process without too much trouble.

While a process has been tested to refine the “pig oil” into something resembling diesel oil, more research is also necessary to see if the “pig oil” can be refined into other petrochemical products. The “pig oil” is similar, but not identical to the kind of oil that is pumped out of the ground.

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