A Summer Full of Gas

Rising seniors Emily Whitaker and Sean Jones joined the farm team this summer to continue working on a research project from the spring semester. When asked to talk about it, Emily was kind enough to go into detail about how exactly biogas works and some of the science behind it. She says, “biogas digestion converts organic wastes into burnable methane gas, a versatile energy source for cooking, heating, and electricity generation.  The farm has a small-scale biogas digester that takes food waste from the cafeteria and manure from the cow fields and, through anaerobic digestion, converts it into methane and an effluent which is a good fertilizer. Methane digesters are living systems that operate at a selective temperature range (37° C -54°C) and outside that range methane production decreases dramatically. Therefore, in temperate climates like Carlisle, heat must be added to maintain gas production in cooler months.  

For an independent student-faculty research project in Spring 2016, Sean and I looked at sustainable ways to heat the biogas digester. Our solution: a Solar Air Heater that converts solar energy into thermal energy. This work then was continued this summer as we worked on biogas storage, movement and the installation of a second Solar Air Heater. With these two units in place the Dickinson College Farm should produce 20%-30% more biogas in the fall and winter, assisting them in the quest to be carbon neutral.” 

We are so thankful for the work that Sean and Emily did for us. They were always a joy to see around the farm. Emily continues to talk about what they enjoyed most about the summer and some hurdles they overcame. “Some highlights of the project included doing science for more than the sake of science. While at the farm, Sean and I came to see and understand how their work would have real life applications and better the lives of the people around them. The things they did outside of the research fundamentals, from building gas bags, gas carts, and creating a scrubber/dryer system for the gas allowed everyone on the farm to operate the biogas digester and get biogas whenever they wanted which was very rewarding to see.

There were a few hiccups of course, when a sensor was faulty and it took a week to notice, or when a program was not running the way it was expected to, but they were minor hurdles that made the final product more rewarding. The summer was a great time to be outdoors and to be working on useful research.” 


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