Beta
MIT

Pitch

To prevent potent carbon emissions, DMC employs hands-off, low-cost technology to produce profitable yields while reducing methane output.

Description

Summary

Human activities have contributed to methane levels in the atmosphere more than doubling in the last 150 years; landfills and livestock farming have contributed to 43% of total methane emissions. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Many researchers have sought to capture and harness this methane effectively. We designed a low-cost process known as Direct Methane Conversion (DMC) which can convert methane into graphene and hydrogen gas on-site. DMC will mitigate methane emission, create jobs, reduce the need for farm subsidies, and create new sustainable products for farms and landfills.

In DMC, technology such as fume hoods will collect biogas from spaces of high methane emission. The biogas will then be forced from the initial collecting chamber through a membrane and into the reaction chamber. This membrane, which is produced by PermSelect, can filter contaminants from methane with 93% efficiency, resulting in highly pure methane entering the reaction chamber. In this high-temperature chamber, which is powered either by a solar array or hydrogen gas, a reaction between the methane and an iron aluminum-oxide complex will take place, producing hydrogen gas and a layer of graphene. The hydrogen gas will be compressed into a separate storage tank, where it can be transported away and sold.

The relatively inexpensive infrastructure will be installed and maintained on farms or landfills by third party companies, leasing the space for operation. The companies will then be able to profit by selling the products while the landowner benefits from increased passive income. Profit incentivizes the development of such systems for farmers. Graphene serves as a highly versatile, durable industrial material that is valuable, while hydrogen gas can be used as a clean fuel. All parties, including the environment, will ultimately benefit.

What are the key outcomes and impact of your solution?

1.Reduced methane emissions - A single cow can produce 225 liters of methane a day (Ishler, n.d.). On average, DMC will capture around 60 liters of methane per cow and utilize it entirely with no emissions as a result of the process. A higher percentage of methane could be captured from landfills and cow waste pits, further increasing the number of emissions removed. DMC, when using just the passive collection, could potentially remove about 16% of all methane emissions if widely adopted. Methane, although less common than carbon dioxide, is a more potent greenhouse gas.

2. Graphite and Graphene production - Graphite of varying grades is worth between $1,000 and $20,000 USD per ton. A single gram of graphene is worth around $100 USD per gram (Lee & Stewart, 2016). PermSelect membranes have an efficiency of 93%. At a minimum, DMC overall would have an efficiency of 10%, producing 4.21g of graphene a day per cow. Therefore, each cow can produce up to $420.72 USD worth of graphene per day. For a farm with 75 cows, DMC would yield $31,553.90 daily. The profit increases substantially with higher efficiencies. Graphene has a wide application in today's market; it is 200 times stronger than steel, a more powerful conductor than copper and gold, highly transparent, and very light (Lee & Stewart, 2016). An increase in graphene's availability will lead to cascading reductions in emissions, as it can replace other materials in the production of much lighter and fuel efficient automobiles and aircraft.

3. Hydrogen gas production - Given the previous assumptions, 1.41 kilograms of hydrogen gas can be produced every day per cow and then sold or used as a fuel to maintain the temperature of the reaction chamber. Hydrogen gas, when used in automobile fuel cells, leads to a car that is two to three times more efficient than conventional vehicles and releases only water vapor and heat (U.S. Department of Energy, 1992).

4. Job creation - The labor needed to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary for DMC would lead to the creation of jobs under the companies responsible for implementing it. Although most aspects of DMC require no human input, the removal of the graphene from the reaction chamber and its shipment would require a worker.

5. Increased farm production and economic security - In the United States, taxpayers pay $20 billion annually to subsidize and insure farmers. For cattle farmers that use DMC on their farm, subsidies would become less necessary as they would benefit from increased passive income. (I want to discuss with the group a way to derive how much this could reduce taxes.) Overall, DMC would have the capacity to increase the socio-economic status of farmers widely. It would do this without disrupting a farmer’s way of life since the infrastructure isn’t particularly invasive.


What actions do you propose to realize your stated goals?

I. The Process of DMC

Direct Methane Conversion would rely on existing technology and research to create a new solution to a big problem: methane emissions. DMC is versatile and can be adapted to fit a variety of different environments. This four phase process involves the collection of biogas, the filtration of methane from the biogas, the conversion of methane to useful products, and the separation and packaging of the final products.

1. Collection of Biogas

The collection of methane-rich biogas can be accomplished in multiple different ways depending on the environment from which the methane is being collected:

Cattle Ranches: Fume hoods can be placed at feeding points for cattle, in bovine medical facilities, in slaughterhouses and anywhere else on a ranch that is partially enclosed and easily adaptable for a fume hood. Cattle waste is typically collected in large pits, which can be open or enclosed. If the pit is enclosed, it can be easily vented for collection of biogas emitted from the waste. Alternatively, cows can also be outfitted with 300 liter gas collection units, pioneered by the Argentine National Institute of Agricultural technology. These collection units are worn on the cow’s back and piped directly into the cow’s intestines.

Landfills: Ventilation from an enclosed landfill can be piped to a collection tank, much like the cattle waste pits.

Sewers: Already enclosed, biogas from sewers is easily collected using any of the previously mentioned methods.

2. Filtration of Methane

 

Once collected, the biogas must be filtered to produce pure methane. Using a vacuum-based pressure system, the biogas would be moved from the initial collecting chamber through a connecting membrane into a reaction chamber. PermSelect Inc. has designed a membrane that can filter common compounds found in biogas from methane, purifying it. The PermSelect polymeric hollow fiber membrane is hydrophobic and dense. It works with 93% efficiency and is effective even with reasonably low feed pressures. DMC would utilize their largest available membrane, which has a 2.1 square meter surface and costs only $940 USD. This step would ensure that nearly pure methane enters the reaction chamber.   

3. Conversion of Methane

Once in the reactor, the methane is converted into graphite and hydrogen gas in the presence of the catalytic apparatus. The reactor consists of a large cylinder to contain the reaction. Within the cylinder will be a honeycomb of catalyst material made up of iron and aluminum oxide. The honeycomb shape provides adequate surface area for the reaction to occur. In order for the reaction to occur, the reactor temperature must be maintained around 800 degrees celsius. This can be powered either by the nearby construction of a solar array, or by use of the hydrogen gas produced by the reaction. Graphene has a much higher selling value than the hydrogen gas, making the latter method feasible. The hydrogen gas option is particularly valuable in regions of reduced sunlight. In order to maintain efficiency, air will need to be periodically vacuumed from the reactor due to the impurities that aren’t filtered by the membrane.

4. Collection of Products

Graphite will eventually cover the catalyst honeycomb, which can be easily replaced due to its low cost. The highly crystalline graphite (graphene) produced by the reaction will be collected during the replacement of catalyst. Lastly, an air compressor attached to the reactor will package the hydrogen gas produced in the reaction for shipment or usage in maintaining the temperature.

II. Distribution of DMC

The physical implementation of DMC is best left to the private sector. Corporations would be responsible for purchasing the necessary components, which mostly have already been developed, and installing them on farms with which they have made partnerships. All DMC design will be open source, available to anyone who wishes to invest in the future of sustainable energy, at no expense to the health of our environment. Investors, large or small, can decide their level of involvement in the system, contracting out certain aspects as they see fit. The business model behind DMC is elaborated on in later sections.

III. Funding of DMC

Prior to the pilot phase of DMC, preliminary research would need to be conducted to verify the viability of the process. This would require a research fund at a supporting research university or similar institution. The first step would be to inquire about scientific companies, research grants, and public donors to acquire funding for research through forums and presentations. Funding can be sought internationally, as DMC does not impede on any cultural values. The self-sustainability and potential profit of DMC provide an incentive for scientists and nonscientists alike to support it. The funding required to pilot DMC would be provided by investors or entrepreneurs seeking to design a company around DMC. The costs associated with this are addressed later in our proposal.

IV. Additional Research

1. Pre-pilot

Before pilot testing this method, experimental research will be conducted regarding the chemical reaction that DMC revolves around. In a laboratory setting, a model reactor and accompanying catalytic apparatus will be designed and tested. With this research, we will be able to accurately predict the efficiency of the reaction. Particularly, the amount of usable, high quality graphene produced will be tracked in order to adjust or verify currently projected profit margins. This type of research can be done at pre-existing chemical labs studying air pollutions at universities or government facilities.

2. Post-pilot

The emphasis of research after the pilot phase is maximizing the efficiency of the process as a whole. By doing this, more emissions can be mitigated, and profit margins will increase. Developments here will lead to greater scalability. Some areas for research include:

- Methods for increasing gas collection

- More effective designs for the catalytic apparatus

- Ways to increase the percent of usable graphene produced

- Alternative catalysts with lower heat requirements

Who will take these actions?

This process would require specialized maintenance workers, and industrial entrepreneurs with connections for the sale and distribution of graphite and hydrogen gas (both valuable commodities), making it outside the scope of the average dairy farmer. Outside corporations would most likely invest in, and maintain, the methane conversion infrastructure and apparatus on the dairy farmers property. In exchange, the dairy farmer may lease the outside company the use of his/her land for their endeavors. This mutualistic approach would financially profit both entities, and could potentially reduce the farmers need for government subsidies through passive income.

In the case of public landfills, private companies can lease use of the land from the city, or county, that maintains the landfill. In exchange, the company will extract methane, convert it, and sell the valuable carbon and hydrogen gas for profit.

This system creates demand for several unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. Contractors will be required for the construction of the methane collection systems, transportation specialists will be needed to move final products from reactor site to end use locations, maintenance professionals will be needed to perform upkeep of the reactors and systems, and general labor will be needed to collect and load methane/hydrogen/graphite packaging. The 300 liter gas collection system requires the most general labor, as each methane backpack must be removed, emptied into the reactor, and refitted to every cow. The demand for unskilled and semi-skilled labor represents potential to improve unemployment and underemployment in areas near landfills, dairy farms, and large cities with extensive sewer systems.

Target geography

Accounting for about 11 percent of all United States greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, Methane (CH4) is the second most prominent emitted.  Although Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), it traps more radiation than carbon dioxide.  According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Overview of Greenhouse Gases, “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”  Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.

Two of the largest sources of human activities that produce methane in the U.S. are enteric fermentations (22% of total Methane Emissions) and landfills (20% of total Methane Emissions).  Enteric fermentation primarily involves agriculture; therefore our primary target geographies are locations with large amounts of domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats.  A Danish study found that the average amount of methane a cow produces per year causes the same greenhouse damage as four tons of CO2, which on average is the amount of methane produced by two cars.  There are 1.5 billion dairy cows and bulls worldwide, as well as, billions of other grazing animals, both farmed and wild, that are contributing to this methane production.  

In the United States, the areas with the highest percent of cattle pasture or rangeland include Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho, and California; each of these States has areas with over 300 cattle and calves per square mile.  However, livestock production occurs in every state and all around the world.  According to the World Bank’s 2008 report, three countries that have maximum methane emission due to agriculture include Solomon Island with 96.80%, Uruguay 92.80% and Namibia 92.00%

What do you expect are the costs associated with piloting and implementing the solution, and what is your business model?

Value Proposition:

Our solution will be developed for-profit. DMC requires short-term low-risk investments in order for it to become self sustainable. During the pilot implementation phases, four to five dairy farms, two or less landfills, and nearby sewers will be targeted within the same state. This will allow for reduced transportation costs, easier inspections, and for the demonstration of efficacy before we spread to other states. Ideal states would be Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, or Nebraska. Partnership companies specializing in technology will work and invest in the selected farms, sewers, or landfills to lease closed off areas releasing methane to pilot the testing phase. As an entity, we will provide open source planning and design of our DMC system to profit investors from production and sale of industrially useful hydrogen gas, graphite, and graphene.

Key Activities:

  • Purchasing methane membrane
  • Industrial production of system components
  • Installation of system
  • Distribution of graphite, graphene, hydrogen

 

Key Partners:

  • Hazer Group
  • Permselect
  • Livestock Farmers
  • City and County landfill officials

 

Piloting Phase:

At a minimum, the piloting phase will require a biogas collection point, ducting from that collection point to a Permselect methane filter and a DMC reactor. Depending on the reactor size, its cost could range from $4000 to $8000 due to material and power requirements. The Permselect filter costs $940 for the largest unit. Based on the collection method chosen, collection infrastructure can range from $1000 for a fume hood to several thousand dollars for cattle gas collection backpacks (depending on the number of cattle). Total cost per pilot, including labor for installation, is around $20,000. Ideally, there will be 4 or 5 redundant pilot systems in different regions to test and demonstrate the financial potential of the system to prospective investors. The system will be self-sustainable and easy to manage for business use due to solar power.

Steps for pilot:

  1. Establish lease with landholder and determine scale of operation
  2. Obtain open source design for system
  3. Purchase patented parts
  4. Hire contractors to build, using our design
  5. Adapt
  6. Hire & train maintenance technicians
  7. Develop industrial partnerships for transportation and sale of products

 

Implementation:

We will expand collection points to increase revenue while further increasing the efficacy of this system, costing approximately $1000 to $10,000 (will be covered by profits). When the system requires more power, companies can turn to its hydrogen production. For any current or prospective investors who choose a large scale implementation, the cost is scalable between $20,000 for a small operation to several million dollars for widespread implementation. Within a year of implementation, these costs will be easily recovered and well into the profit collection phase. As mentioned before, an average farm with 75 cows will bring in an average profit of approximately $35,000 a day on its own. 

Timeline

  1. ~6 months to pilot test

  2. 1-2 years for widespread single company use, adjustments needed, and observing system maintenance.

  3. 3-4 years for advocation and implementation of use to other companies across the country or to other countries who are interested.


Our solution has the potential to be utilized globally. It would be piloted in a U.S. city at either a landfill in which trash is burned, or a cattle farm in a state such as Texas. Once a partnership with a company has been established, the capacity for DNC to reduce emissions can be tracked. We will keep tabs on the amount of methane captured and converted. Measurement of efficacy would begin after approximately 6 months to monitor progress. Once proven effective, our project could be implemented in more cities. At that point, our project could be presented to several other companies to both introduce competition and increase the overall impact of our solution. Because of its low cost and profitability, DNC would be appealing to many companies. After the initial testing phase, it would just be a matter of reaching out to other companies of interest to adopt our solution as a business option for substantial profit that easily outweighs its initial costs.

Related solutions

“ Less Gas, More Prosperity: high productivity, low emissions global farming.” http://solvecolab.mit.edu/challenges/2016/fuel-carbon-contributions/c/solution/1328978

This also addresses the vast amount of methane produced from livestock such as cows to reduce carbon emissions. Their solution focused on waste produced specifically from animals like cows, while ours targets methane contributions on a wider scope. We also discuss converting methane to produce beneficial, valuable products with the capacity to further reduce emissions.

“Food Waste Reduction (Landfills and Food Dumps)”

http://solvecolab.mit.edu/challenges/2016/fuel-carbon-contributions/c/solution/1329127

Their aim is to decrease overall waste in landfills as well as monitor the air content. Our solution is similar because we also want to have an embedded step where we measure the content of any gas at any point in our system to ensure safety. Additionally, our proposal emphasizes byproducts for profit.

References

"Agricultural Methane Emissions (% of Total)." Agricultural Methane Emissions (% of Total) | Data. N.p., n.d.

Atherton, Matt. “Scientists Think They Might Be Able to Reduce Methane from Cows by 25%... by Using Oregano.” International Business Times UK, 9 Feb. 2016,www.ibtimes.co.uk/denmark-scientists-prepare-oregano-feed-reduce-greenhouse-gas-methane-emissions-cows-by-25-1542829

Beil, Laura. “Getting Creative to Cut Methane from Cows.” Science News, Society for Science &Amp; the Public 2000 - 2017. All Rights Reserved., 6 Mar. 2016,www.sciencenews.org/article/getting-creative-cut-methane-cows

“Capoor, Karan; Ambrosi, Philippe. 2008. State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2008. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank.https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/13405License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”

"Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 06 Oct. 2016.

Grainger, C. et al. “Methane Emissions from Dairy Cows Measured Using the Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) Tracer and Chamber Techniques.” Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 90, no. 6, 2007, pp. 2755–2766. doi:10.3168/jds.2006-697.

Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, (eds.). Cambridge University Press, 2009.

"Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2014." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 23 Aug. 2016.

Ishler, Virginia A. “Carbon, Methane Emissions and the Dairy Cow (Dairy Cattle Nutrition).”Dairy Cattle Nutrition (Penn State Extension), Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, 2008, extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/nutrition/nutrition-and-feeding/diet-formulation-and-evaluation/carbon-methane-emissions-and-the-dairy-cow.

Kalambe S, Sapkal RS, Sapkal VS (2012) Low pressure separation technique of biogas into CH4 and CO2 employing PDMS membrane. IJAET 3(1):311–315http://www.technicaljournalsonline.com/ijeat/VOL%20III/IJAET%20VOL%20III%20ISSUE%20I%20JANUARY%20MARCH%202012/69%20IJAET%20Vol%20III%20Issue%20I%202012.pdf

Lee, P., & Stewart, D. (2016, January 13). Predictions 2016: Graphene: Research now, reap next decade | technology, media, and telecommunications. Retrieved January 10, 2017, fromhttps://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/tmt-pred16-tech-graphene-research-now-reap-next-decade.html#full-report

“Methane Capture and Use.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 3 Mar. 2016, www3.epa.gov/climatechange/kids/solutions/technologies/methane.html.

“Methane Purification, CO2 Removal | PermSelect, Inc.”, PermSelect 2016 - Silicone Gas Exchange Membranes,www.permselect.com/Platform_Technology/NG_CO2_Removal

“Mobilizing Bright Science for Project.” Project “Clean Cow” DSM,www.dsm.com/corporate/science/competences/chemical-sciences/project-clean-cow.html

U.S. Department of Energy. Alternative fuels data center: Hydrogen basics.http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_basics.html

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Solution Summary
Direct Methane Conversion - Changing Emissions to Graphene and Hydrogen Fuel
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By:  Aeolus's Breath
Challenge: Fuel: Carbon Contributions
How can individuals and corporations manage and reduce their carbon contributions?