Developing sustainable bioenergy systems for Ohio farms
Yebo Li, Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering Carri Gerber, Agricultural Technical Institute Richard H. Moore, School of Environment and Natural Resources

Chinese farmers use an integrated greenhouse agroecosystem known as “4-in-1,” which uses on-farm feedstocks and animal waste to produce biogas as a sustainable energy source. OARDC researchers have worked to evaluate the viability of feedstock found in Ohio for use in bioenergy, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, this project aimed to emulate the 4-in-1 model on an Ohio Amish dairy farm in the Sugar Creek Watershed. In the Amish sustainable energy system, the team integrated dairy cows, biogas, decorative plants and vegetables, and a solar water heater in a greenhouse. The system’s key component is anaerobic digestion, in which biodegradable material is broken down (without oxygen) to release energy. To increase biogas production on an individual farm, the digestion facility should be capable of converting a wide variety of the farm’s organic wastes. The team analyzed methane yield and productivity by volume during anaerobic digestion of eight feedstocks — switchgrass, corn stover, wheat straw, yard waste, leaves, waste paper, maple, and pine — under both liquid and solid state anaerobic digestion (AD). Codigestion of yard and food waste was also tested, which greatly increases both methane yield and

productivity by volume, and it also allows farmers to take advantage of feedstocks that have zero or negative costs. To assess the potential of the 4-in-1 system, a 300-gallon modified fixed-dome digester was installed and operated in a greenhouse. During one year of operation, the system performed successfully while the temperature was above 20°C (168 days), indicating such a system can operate for half the year in a temperate climate. Additional improvements are needed to increase the digester performance during colder months. In July 2009, a pilot-scale biodigester was set up at the Family Farm Field Day held near Mt. Hope. Amish farmers expressed interest, and lab-scale digestion tests of horse mulch and yard waste indicated that feed materials accessible to the Amish community could be used in the biodigesters. Farmers could thus play a leading role in sustainable energy production, which they could use onfarm for their own economic benefit, as well as the state’s. On the other hand, the results from the 300-gallon dome digester suggest that it could be combined with additional conservation measures related to water quality trading. Farmers have requested that water quality trading credits be combined with greenhouse gas credits so that these efforts are complementary. OARDC is collaborating with Quasar Energy Group to build a combined liquid to solid-phase anaerobic digestion facility for biogas production from municipal and agricultural waste in Zanesville, for which a patent has been applied. Quasar also plans to construct a large-scale modified 4-in-1 sustainable energy system (digesters and greenhouse).

Yebo Li

Chinese farmers use an integrated greenhouse agro-ecosystem known as “4-in-1,” which uses on-farm feedstocks and animal waste to produce biogas as a sustainable energy source. SEEDS: The OARDC Research Enhancement Competitive Grants Program


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