Chemistry and Biochemistry

Turning China's Waste Into Renewable Energy

Posted: May 02, 2011

Two BYU chemistry professors have been using their knowledge of bacteria to turn waste into energy for quite some time, and now they’re taking their craft on the road — to China!

Jaron Hansen, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Lee Hansen, an emeritus faculty member from the same department, recently traveled to the world’s most populous country to unveil the biogas conditioning system they built for the Chinese government.

The conditioner is currently being installed on a dairy farm outside Shanghai and will function as part of a larger anaerobic digestion system to produce renewable energy for on-site use. This system will also include two large Induced Bed Reactors (or IBRs), which will be used to turn cow manure into methane gas. The professors’ biogas conditioner will then purify that gas, stripping out any harmful elements and converting it into compressed natural gas that can be used to power the dairy’s vehicles.

To learn more about Jaron Hansen’s work with anaerobic digestion, read the article in Frontiers Magazine.

During their time in China, the professors will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil the new system. They will be joined at the ceremony by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who will attend as part of a previously scheduled economic trip to the country, as well as several Chinese provincial governors.

"I'm delighted to be able to participate in this event during our trade mission to China,” Herbert said of the ceremony. “This project embodies Utah's entrepreneurial spirit of innovation and partnership, and I commend both Dr. Jaron Hansen and Dr. Lee Hansen for their hard work and determination that ensured this day would come to fruition.”

The professors will stay in China for 10 days in order to install the biogas conditioner and make sure the whole system runs smoothly. But Jaron Hansen is less concerned about the product working than he is about actually getting it into the country.

“It costs more for us to ship [the conditioner] to China than it does for me to fly over there,” he said. “It only costs me $800 to fly over to China and back, and it costs $2300 just to ship the biogas conditioner one way.

“Then again,” Hansen added, whimsically, “it also weighs 1,000 pounds, which is a quite a bit more than what I weigh.”

Any shipping costs, however, are only temporary concerns that won’t deter either of these professors — Jaron Hansen says the pair currently plan to install up to three additional biogas conditioning systems in the Shanghai area in 2011.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” he said of the time and energy expended on each system. “We’re making the world a better place!”

See a press release about six new EcoPartnerships to be signed with China on May 10 (one of which is "The State of Utah with Qinghai Province (China)," as reported near the end).

By Steve Pierce, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Illustration courtesy of CPMS