A project that could turn cow manure and moldy hamburgers into electricity while also cutting down on the amount of waste products that flow into our waterways is getting a boost from an anonymous donor.

The West Virginia University Davis College Farm Project Fund will provide $50,000 over five years for improvement projects at the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design farms, with first preference given to using the funding as a match for developing an anaerobic digester.

“We are very grateful that our donors are willing to take on projects that have not traditionally been tackled using private funds,” said WVU Davis College Interim Dean Dr. Rudolph P. Almasy. “This gift provides leverage for attracting additional dollars for farm projects that are sometimes difficult to fund.”

The donor’s intent was to use the funds to help spark interest in building the anaerobic digester, which takes organic waste and turns it into a biogas that is directed to an internal combustion engine coupled with an electric generator. The process also produces a nutrient rich substance that can be used as a liquid fertilizer or dried and used for compost or animal bedding.

Use of anaerobic digesters is a common method of handling organic wastes and generating electricity in industry and on farms in Europe. In the United States, the technology has developed rapidly over the past three decades, and now more than 125 digesters are in operation on farms across the country.

The WVU Davis College Animal Sciences Farm, located off Stewartstown Road on the outskirts of Morgantown, produces about 432 tons of manure a year from a 40-head dairy herd, more than 50 beef cattle, 100 sheep, chickens and hogs. WVU’s Office of Sustainability and Dining Services have partnered with the Davis College to examine the amount of food waste that is generated on campus and how it could be converted into electricity and high quality organic matter using the digester.

The college’s Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences has determined that this process could produce about $40,000 worth of electricity each year. The division could also sell the fertilizer and save the university the cost of landfill tipping fees, allowing WVU to recover its costs for building the digester in just more than five years.

“This process is sustainable, environmentally friendly and a cost-efficient mechanism for disposing of waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill and contribute to methane gas that could be captured and converted to electricity” said Dr. Matthew Wilson, the college’s interim director of the Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences. “But the great thing about this fund is that we will have the flexibility to use it in a number of ways, either to leverage funding for the anaerobic digester or to make other farm improvements.”

The digester would also be used as a demonstration project, with research conducted on building the lowest cost, most efficient mechanisms and on developing new, sustainable systems for protecting the environment.

An annual fund campaign will be launched using the $50,000 as a match to spark interest from other potential donors to assist with the development of the digester or to pay for other farm improvements. The funding will also be leveraged in grant proposals to help attract additional dollars.

The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, a private non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for WVU.



CONTACT: Julie R. Cryser; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
304.293.2400; julie.cryser@mail.wvu.edu

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