Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Biogas + China-US cooperation - post in China Focus

Here my latest post I submitted in UC Berkeley's China Focus:

Jim Rothstein  
While Chinese manufacturers frequently express desire for greater access to Western technology, Western companies say they worry about the IP implications.   One common suggestion  is for China and the US to jointly develop new IP, especially in alternative energy or emerging technologies.   The logic goes something like this: US excels in R&D, while China can implement projects quickly and for lower cost.  The result then is faster RD&D (research, development and demonstration and ultimately commercialization)  then either could do alone - and we all benefit.
One candidate for this approach is joint project between a large commercial dairy in rural Jinshan, near Shanghai,  and a consortium of start-up Utah companies with strong ties to academic research.  Although the agreement, called the Jinshan Clean Energy Project,  is wrapped in much political language promising jobs and ecological benefits - which will need to be evaluated - the 3 phase project calls for joint investment to recover biogas from animal manure and to develop the commercial processes to convert it into a syngas and ultimately diesel fuel.
Normally, anaerobic digestion, a natural process using bacteria without oxygen, is used to convert relatively small amounts of household/small farm animal/plant waste into a slurry and biogas (a mixture of methane, CO2, H2S, water) for cooking or electricity generation.  However, as China (and much of the developing world) joins the developed world's fondness for high per capita consumption of animal protein, especially in the form of beef or dairy, animal processing becomes centralized with the associated environmental and waste concerns.
The Jinshan project is one of several technical efforts, in China  (GE and ShenyangGE and Henan) and elsewhere, to scale and industrialize anaerobic digestion to work at a commercial, rather than household, level.   So this project seeks to create large quantities of biogas (in a 3-4 story tower) from the dairy, purify it and then, with novel catalysts/technologies developed by universities and licensed to 4 Utah companies known as Utah Clean Energy Alliance, covert it to a syngas and finally liquid diesel fuel, tweaking a well-known Fisher-Tropsch process.
Jinshan District will provide $1 million dollars in funding, to be matched by NSF.  If successful, commercial manufacturing will be done in China.  The four Utah companies are: Cosmas (catalysts), Andigen (the AD chamber), Anaerobic Technologies (purification), Ceramatec (syngas equipment)

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