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The People’s Choice – Farm grown asphalt: Pig poop for sustainability

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The people have spoken – pig poop is on top.

This summer, finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Business Competition submitted short video overviews of their innovative ideas. One video rose to the top – winning this year’s People’s Choice award. The video was put together by student Daniel Oldham, a member of the team of entrepreneurs at North Carolina A&T State University who are sending pig manure off to the glue factory.

The United States alone produces 6 billion gallons of swine manure per year. Using a reforming process that combines this organic matter with heat and pressure in an oxygen-depleted (anoxic) water solution, this group of entrepreneurs has been able to create a replacement for petroleum-based asphalt binders. According to their analysis, this “PiGrid” is cheaper and better (for the environment) than traditional petroleum-based binders.

The idea was born in 2009 in Civil Engineering Professor Elham “Ellie” H. Fini’s Sustainable Infrastructure Materials (SIM) lab.  In her lab’s attempt to develop construction adhesives that do not rely on petroleum sources, they identified pig manure as a potentially rich resource. Their analysis showed that this raw material’s chemical structure and mechanical properties made it a promising possibility for replacing petroleum-based asphalt binders.

The BioAdhesive Alliance Inc. soon born, focusing on the concept that Pig poop + heat + pressure could equal environmental sustainability. In 2009 , student researcher Daniel Oldham came on board to push the research forward. Three years and a lot of poop processing later, Dr. Mahour Mellat-Parast came on board to help move the product through the commercialization phase. The team took their idea to the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Business Competition and took home the $100,000 grand prize at the southeastern region’s ACC Clean Energy Challenge. This made them one of six finalists to advance to the grand finale national round.

For this national round, each of the six finalists put together a short video on their work. These videos were placed online, giving the public a chance to vote on who they thought had the most promising opportunity. While the Alliance’s technology did not win the grand prize, their video – narrated by student Daniel Oldham – came out on top.

According to Oldham, his goal in this process is to move the sustainability dial forward by helping address our world’s dependence on fossil fuel based products. And, more broadly, to show how common, and seemingly worthless materials can serve huge roles in the sustainability movement.

The team is now moving on to build a pilot plant on their university’s campus with a longer-term goal of building their first commercial reactor in Warsaw, NC.

About the team:

Dr. Elham H. Fini

Dr. Elham H. Fini, P.E. received her Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008 in the area of Civil Engineering. She is currently Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University (NCA&TSU).  She is also the director of Sustainable Infrastructure Materials (SIM) Laboratory at NCA&TSU and President of the American Society of Civil Engineers in North Carolina’s Northern Branch. Dr. Fini research focuses on the production, characterization and atomistic modeling of bio-adhesives from animal waste for use as an alternative to petroleum-based construction adhesive.

Dr. Fini is the author or co-author of 44 articles in journals and conference proceedings and one book. Her research interests include rheological characteristics, surface and interfacial adhesion  properties of materials, molecular modeling and implementing new materials and methods to enhance pavement sustainability. In particular producing and characterizing low cost, durable and eco-friendly bioadhesive which can be used to replace petroleum basedconstruction adhesives.  She is recipient of NSF CAREER award, NCA&TSU’s Outstanding Young  Investigator and Rookie of the year awards. She is also FHWA’s  Eisenhower fellow,  and the recipient of the American Society of Engineering Education’s Gerald R. Seeley Best Paper award, Transportation Research Board’s advising award, and Helene M. Overly Memorial Scholarship from  Association of Advancing Women in Transportation (WTS). E-mail: efini [at] ncat [dot] edu

Daniel Oldham

Daniel Oldham received his Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering from North CarolinaA&T State University (NCA&TSU) and Associates Degree in Engineering from Guilford Technical Community College in 2013 as well as his Waste Management and Six Sigma Greenbelt Certification. He is currently a graduate student at NC A&T where he serves as Research Assistant and Lab Manager of the Sustainable Infrastructure Materials (SIM) Laboratory. His research has primarily been in the use of sustainable materials in asphalt pavement, which  has resulted in four publications as well as poster and podium presentations in various transportation, engineering, and green energy conferences.  Daniel also serves currently as Technical Manager of the BioAdhesive Alliance.

Previously, Daniel worked in the House Moving Industry where he worked as an assistant foreman as well as maintenance manager and mechanic. He has received several awards such as the ACC Clean Energy Award 2013, CAEE Fellow Award 2013, Robert E. Pearson, Cyrus Painter Memorial, and 2-time Department of Energy Scholarship Recipient. He also received the prestigious Dwight D. Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship for 2012-2013. Daniel currently lives in Seagrove, NC. Email: djoldham [at] aggies [dot] ncat [dot] edu

Dr. Mahour Parast

Mahour Parast is an Assistant Professor of Technology Management at North Carolina A&T State University where he teaches courses on operations management, supply chain management, innovation management, and statistics. Mahour’s research area is on supply chain quality, supply chain risk management, and process and product innovation. His scholarly works have appeared in several peer-reviewed journals such as  International Journal of Production Research, International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management and Production Planning & Control.

He received his Ph.D. in Industrial & Management Systems Engineering from University of  Nebraska-Lincoln in 2006. He has more than five years of industrial experience working as quality manager, strategic planner, and technology analyst in the auto industry, electric power industry, and agriculture industry. Mahour joined the bio-adhesive research team in June 2012 to evaluate and examine the commercialization of the technology through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) project. He is currently serving as the president of the Bio-Adhesive Alliance, a spin-out company from NC A&T State University.

Photo Credit: Photo by NC A&T Engineering Department

Related Posts:

1. SiNode Systems Wins National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition

2. 2013 National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition Highlights Technology Innovation

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. jtdwyer 6:36 pm 08/6/2013

    Once again, it seems as though ‘sustainability’ has been confused with ‘clean’ – in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Business Competition.

    That is, I found no reference to emissions, or how the bio-asphalt compares to petroleum based asphalt or, especially, concrete road surfaces. In fact, I found no mention of how bio-asphalt compares to concrete in sustainability.

    Regarding, petroleum based asphalt, “The largest source of emissions, however, is the road surface itself.”
    http://www.epa.gov/ttn/chief/ap42/ch04/final/c4s05.pdf

    I suspect that concrete, by comparison, releases very little if any gases through surface emissions, unlike asphalt. I have to wonder about bio-asphalt co2 emissions – not to mention its potential for odors, which apparently wasn’t mentioned…

    Link to this
  2. 2. Rich102 8:50 pm 08/10/2013

    While bio-asphalt may emit some CO2, it also presumably captures a lot, and I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned– “carbon sequestration via stabilization of hog manure” or some such.

    The potential for odors is something I hadn’t thought of as I was reading the article. But one supposes it could be a problem if the process weren’t done properly.

    Link to this

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