Western Washington University’s Vehicle Research Institute (VRI) has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand its Biomethane for Transportation project, turning dairy waste into clean-burning biomethane.

Part of the project’s funding will go toward placing new engines in three buses used by Bellingham’s Bellair Charters; these buses will be converted from diesel fuel to biomethane with engines from Northwest Cummins and will produce 23 times less carbon dioxide than they did previously.

“These buses will essentially become ‘carbon negative’ once they have the new engines installed. Not only will they produce a fraction of the CO2 they did before the conversion, but they are also using a renewable resource made from cow manure, which would ordinarily just add its greenhouse gases to the atmosphere,” said VRI Director Eric Leonhardt.

Larry Wickkiser, manager of Bellair Charters, said he was excited to be a part of the VRI biomethane project.

“The time is right for our company because the technology is coming together in our own back yard. On top of that, the raw fuel source is abundant, renewable and locally produced,” said Wickkiser.

The biomethane used to power the buses comes from the Northwest’s first dairy digester at the Vander Haak dairy in Lynden; the farm’s cows supply the manure put into an anaerobic digester on the farm, which separates the solids from the gases. The gases are then run through a “scrubber,” which removes the hydrogen sulfide and other contaminants from the methane and makes it clean and ready to burn in a combustion engine.

Being a dairy-intensive region, Whatcom County alone could produce enough biomethane to run every car, truck, bus and piece of farm equipment in the county, according to Leonhardt; the timeline is to have the first of the Bellair bus conversions in place and ready to go by the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“That’s the big picture – how can this technology be put to greater use? Hopefully this pilot project with Bellair will answer some of those questions,” he said.

Source: Western Washington University