NIST: Pig Manure Crude Needs Much Refining

A team of chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed the first detailed chemical analysis revealing what processing is needed to transform pig manure crude oil into fuel for vehicles or heating.

Mass production of this type of biofuel could help consume a waste product overflowing at U.S. farms, and possibly enable cutbacks in the nation's petroleum use and imports. But, according to a new NIST paper, pig manure crude will require a lot of refining.

The ersatz oil used in the NIST analyses was provided by engineer Yuanhui Zhang of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Zhang developed a system using heat and pressure to transform organic compounds such as manure into oil.

NIST chemist Tom Bruno and colleagues determined that the pig manure crude contains at least 83 major compounds, including many components that would need to be removed, such as about 15 percent water by volume, sulfur that otherwise could end up as pollution in vehicle exhaust, and lots of char waste containing heavy metals, including iron, zinc, silver, cobalt, chromium, lanthanum, scandium, tungsten, and minute amounts of gold and hafnium. Whatever the pigs eat, from dirt to nutritional supplements, ends up in the oil.

The measurements were made with a new NIST test method and apparatus, the advanced distillation curve, which provides highly detailed and accurate data on the makeup and performance of complex fluids. A distillation curve charts the percentage of the total mixture that evaporates as a sample is slowly heated. Because the different components of a complex mixture typically have different boiling points, a distillation curve gives a good measure of the relative amount of each component in the mixture. NIST chemists enhanced the traditional technique by improving precision and control of temperature measurements and adding the capability to analyze the chemical composition of each boiling fraction using various advanced methods.

NIST researchers analyzed the graphite-like char remaining after the distillation by bombarding it with neutrons, a non-destructive way of identifying the types and amounts of elements present. Two complementary neutron methods detected the heavy metals listed above.

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