Missouri is on the cutting edge of creating clean alternative energy beyond well-known technology like wind and solar power. Innovative companies, such as Enginuity Worldwide and Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE), are harnessing energy from agricultural waste found on Missouri’s own farms.
Mexico, Mo.-based Enginuity Worldwide is using its own biomass fuel to make coal last longer and go further than ever. The mission: to economically reduce power plant emissions through augmenting and enhancing coal-fired power.
“Renewable energy is the wave of the future,” says Nancy Heimann, president and CEO. “We saw a need to provide a cost-effective fuel that can be used alongside coal but that would bring carbon benefits based on renewable power.”
To make the upgraded biomass called BioCoal Fuel, Enginuity Worldwide uses Missouri’s abundance of raw materials, or crop residue, left in fields after harvest, such as stems, seeds and leaves. BioCoal Fuel looks like and has the same energy output as coal. The company creates it by heating biomass with friction produced in a patented rotary compression unit, using only electricity.
Heimann notes Missouri’s profusion of crops as a driving factor in developing BioCoal Fuel. According to the USDA, nearly 70 percent of Missouri is farmland.
“We are Missourians, so we looked at our state’s resources to self-produce renewable energy, and biomass is our most abundant resource,” she says. “There are millions of acres producing crops, and as the yield of all those have gone up, current farming practices are now recommending those to be removed. It really pays off for the farmer to remove that residue.”
While the current focus of the company is on biomass for energy production, Enginuity Worldwide plans to apply the technology to other industries, including ethanol production, feedlot waste, grain processing and animal feed.
Roeslein Alternative Energy
Also in Missouri, St. Louis-based RAE is creating renewable natural gas from hog manure collected in lagoons that typically release gasses into the atmosphere. The company partnered with the Smithfield Foods Hog Production Division in 2013 to capture the methane and convert it to marketable renewable natural gas. According to RAE, it’s the largest known biogas project of its kind.
“We have a project that makes both economic and environmental sense,” says Rudi Roeslein, founder and president. “We have worked through the technology of how to make it happen.”
To create renewable natural gas, RAE uses anaerobic digestion, a natural biological process in which bacteria break down organic waste. Lagoons are fitted with airtight covers to prevent methane from escaping and keep oxygen from entering the area, allowing bacteria to multiply and start anaerobic digestion. Once the process is complete, RAE cleans the leftover biogas with special equipment so it can be injected into the natural gas pipeline system.
Because of this process at Smithfield’s nine hog farms, RAE estimates 850,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent methane won’t escape into the atmosphere due to the covers over the 88 lagoons. Plus, it will create around 17 million diesel-equivalent gallons of renewable natural gas.
“We cannot look at manure as waste any more,” Roeslein says. “We have to figure out what we can do with manure to keep it in the cycle. There are no silver bullets. But this is a small step in showing how to use these underutilized resources to produce energy and return everything that remains productively back to the landscape. Because that’s how nature really works.”
Roeslein is passionate about protecting and nurturing the land. His vision for RAE includes showing farmers native grasslands can produce marketable feedstock for renewable natural gas production. The company’s overarching goal is the 30-30 program, with a mission to restore native prairie plants to 30 million acres of highly erodible land in the Midwest within the next three decades. RAE plans to use this project as a model to restore hundreds of millions of acres of grassland around the globe.