Research Scientist Nikhil Patel has 18 years of experience in the combustion and gasification of biomass, coal, and unconventional, difficult-to-burn liquid and solid industrial wastes, focusing on inventing and implementing innovative zero-effluent discharge gasification processes. Patel has been interested in researching local waste utilization since he joined the EERC in 2002.
“I was interested in poultry waste, particularly, because of the complexities of the fuel,” said Patel. “My interest began at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, where I pursued aerospace engineering for my Ph.D. My professors, who are known aerospace scientists, were also heavily into biomass gasification. I think the gasification process and associated technology can be optimized to make the whole industry energy self-reliant and self-sustaining.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 248 million turkeys were raised in the United States in 2011. Whether the turkeys were raised on pastures or in facilities, the manure and litter need to be dealt with, either by spreading it on available land or selling it for fertilizer, both of which have associated cost expenditures.
Late 2005/early 2006, discussions began between Patel and DenYon Farms owner Dennis Weis, a turkey farmer in Iowa. Weis and others of the Iowa Turkey Federation were looking for ways to handle the waste from their farms in a cost-effective and responsible way. Patel and Weis had several conversations and meetings over the years. Then one day, Weis’s son delivered a bag of turkey manure to Patel for gasification.
“We did some initial experiments, and when Dennis came to the EERC, I showed him the flames produced from the syngas that was produced from the manure,” said Patel. “Dennis was so excited.”
From that day forward, Patel and Weis have been on a journey to develop the technology to turn turkey manure and waste into clean energy as well as recover turkey waste by-products, such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Recently, the EERC announced a partnership with DenYon Energy, LLC, and the U.S. Department of Energy to do just that. The EERC Foundation has licensed the technology to DenYon for use in the domestic poultry industry.
“The EERC’s role is to deliver a process flow diagram of an innovative technology that will work. We take it to a level where an engineering company could understand how to translate that into a working demonstration unit,” said Patel. “Once that demonstration unit is up and running at DenYon Farms, the design will be fine-tuned. Then it will be called a commercial system, and then you can replicate the system.”
Patel said Weis wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and works hard all day. Although the gasification technology is complex, Weis and his wife, Yonnie, believe in its possibilities, as evidenced by their investment in the project. Their confidence in and passion for the project match Patel’s.
“The benefits pertaining to the environment are some of the most critical driving forces for this project,” said Patel. “It is my personal goal to ensure that this world is a better, cleaner, and healthier place. I work every day to live up to these expectations.”