An Ohio State University project aimed at generating clean energy from farming and food-processing wastes has received $1.5 million in federal funds, thanks to the support of U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula of Ohio's 16th District.

The funds -- part of the recently approved $30.5 billion Energy and Water appropriations bill -- will help the university's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) optimize various technologies, such as anaerobic digestion and fuel cells, for the conversion of Ohio's abundant biomass into scalable energy systems.

"There is considerable interest in bio-conversion processes to generate energy. If these systems can be used to reduce energy costs for Ohio companies, the potential for these companies to be profitable increases significantly," said OARDC Director Steve Slack. "We are particularly indebted to Rep. Regula, who has recognized that this technology is critical to Ohio industries -- as is the underlying research to optimize these systems."

Ohio's biomass, rich in agricultural and food-processing wastes, is capable of producing at least 65 percent of the state's residential electricity needs, according to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, the Ohio Department of Development and the U.S. Department of Energy. These resources, however, have not been tapped for their full potential and most often represent an environmental liability and financial burden to agribusinesses and food manufacturers alike.

The federal funds match a $1.5 million Third Frontier Project award given by the state of Ohio in 2004 to set this project in motion. With these allocations, OARDC is planning to establish a pioneering bio-energy research facility on its Wooster campus. The facility will include a set of 1,600-gallon anaerobic digesters especially designed to handle industrial food-processing wastes -- which are stronger than manure but can produce several times more energy. Also in the facility will be solid-oxide fuel cells, which can use either liquids or biogas to produce energy.

Besides being capable of handling a variety of fuels that are not clean, which is expected of renewable fuels, another plus of this fuel-cell system is that it's manufactured in Ohio by Cleveland's Technology Management Inc.

(TMI) -- one of several industry partners in the project.

"This is another way this project fosters Ohio development, tapping into the state's effort to become a leader in fuel-cell development," said OARDC animal scientist Floyd Schanbacher, one of the project leaders.

Also planned is an industrial-size facility that will allow businesses to test their feedstocks and calculate their potential energy yield.

Interested industries would then be able to determine the feasibility of setting up their own biomass processing plants.

The potential of this bio-energy initiative has been recognized by NorTech, a northeast Ohio technology-based economic development organization, which presented OARDC with one of its 2005 Innovation Awards last September.

Supported in part by line-item appropriations from the Ohio General Assembly and with locations on Ohio State's Columbus and Wooster campuses, OARDC (www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) is the largest and most comprehensive agricultural research facility in the United States.

Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center