MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Can methane gas be extracted from horse manure in a lab

Date: Sat Oct 16 14:16:31 1999
Posted By: Jeremy Starr, Grad Student, Chemistry, California Institute of Technology
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 939954401.Ch

Hi Katrina,

It is well known that horse manure left standing will slowly give off 
methane gas. However, this does not mean it contains a significant 
quantity of trapped methane gas that somehow could be extracted or 
collected. The gas is formed by the gradual decomposition of the organic 
(carbon containing) material by anaerobic microbes whose byproduct is 
methane gas. This fermentation process has been studied and optimized and 
one can buy an apparatus which allows the evolved methane gas to be 
collected over time or used for heat. The following website:

gives some information about a commercially available device that does 
this. According to the website, the optimum temperature for the 
fermentation is 95F and the output is 3-4 cubic feet of methane per cubic 
foot of "slurry" per day. Keeping the slurry warm and productive requires 
energy and mixing. If the system is not well insulated the energy required 
to maintain the optimum temperature could exceed that available from the 
methane produced.

Interestingly, oil companies are now investing resources in figuring out 
how to tap the vast deposits of methane that is trapped as water 
clathrates in the deep ocean. If this can be done efficiently, it would be 
a new source of fossil fuel and put off the world's eventual need to find 
a truly alternative energy source.

Hope this helps!

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