A GREAT LAKES ECHO/SOLUTIONS JOURNALISM/WISCONSIN NEWS CONNECTION COLLABORATION – UW Oshkosh has been building a relationship with the startup Agra Energy since 2017. This public-private partnership now looks to scale up a process involving farm animal waste and biofuels. Comments from Kenny Johnson, biodigester research and operations supervisor, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a California company are now operating Wisconsin’s first commercial facility to turn manure into fuel for trucks and jets. The project started six years ago when Agra Energy searched for waste streams for renewable biofuels. After an initial pilot run, construction began on a new facility last fall with production getting underway in the first half of this year. The process produces diesel and jet fuel, but not gasoline. The University’s Kenny Johnson says it goes hand-in-hand with an environmental approach. “We obviously wouldn’t want to produce this methane gas and then just ‘burp’ it into the atmosphere.”
Biogas also helps mitigate emissions that would otherwise have escaped from landfills or manure lagoons and contribute to the greenhouse gases that produce climate change. The new facility was strategically placed in Wisconsin because of the state’s “untapped biodigester market,” with Johnson noting the state has a ton of farms.
As the first facility in Wisconsin, Johnson expects some growing pains to commercialize the fuel with a competitive market. He says people need to realize there is value to biogas, and that buyers are needed for it.
“What we’re doing is producing fuel, and showing that their process could work on a commercial scale. “
Agra officials say the goal for the new commercial facility is to make about 18-hundred gallons of fuel per day. They say the partnership also provides hands-on experience for U-W-O students to learn about biogas systems.