Hydrogen Fuel Cell Project Taps Farm’s Anaerobic Digester

A Minnesota dairy farm is making history by becoming the first demonstration project in the world to run a hydrogen fuel cell from the biogas captured from dairy cows.

The project is being conducted at the Haubenschild family farm near Princeton. For five years, the Haubenschilds have operated an anaerobic digester — a system that collects manure to capture methane gas for conversion to electricity. The addition of the hydrogen fuel cell is the latest innovative project on the farm. The anaerobic manure digester produces biogas, which is composed of methane, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and trace gases. Once the biogas from the manure digester is cleaned, the biogas is converted to hydrogen fuel, which produces electricity in the fuel cell. The demonstration project is the first of its kind, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), and is a cooperative venture between the MDA, Haubenschild Farms, the University of Minnesota Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and the Minnesota Project. Funding for the fuel cell project was provided by the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund though the Legislative Commission on Minnesota’s Resources (LCMR). This purpose of this project is to investigate the feasibility of using fuel cell technology on a working farm. University of Minnesota researchers have been able to run the 5 kW PEM fuel cell on biogas intermittently and are working towards running the fuel cell on biogas continually. A fuel cell of this size is ideal for research purposes but not large enough to power the dairy or produce electricity for sale. Dr. Philip Goodrich is conducting the research on this innovative project for the University of Minnesota, College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment Sciences (COAFES). “The expansion of energy harvesting and conversion to rural areas will bring business expansion, jobs and continued vitality to rural Minnesota,” Goodrich said. “Fuel cells and anaerobic digestion are part of this opportunity. Hydrogen may be one of the primary drivers of the economy within 10 years.” Cleaning the gas so it can be used by the fuel cell is the one of the greatest challenges for this experiment. Trace gas such as hydrogen sulfide can damage the fuel cell, so it is important that impurities are removed. The University of Minnesota researchers are experimenting with a number of low-cost systems for cleaning the biogas.
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