For our midterm, we needed to present our Proof of Concept to class, taking everyone through the journey of our process and where we are now. Below is my presentation, and what I took the class through.
The topic that was assigned to me was Methane. Methane is the simplest alkane gas, but in the context of the Anthropocene, it’s the second largest greenhouse gas after CO2.
So I took the three major producers of Methane and decided to dig deeper into one in particular: Agriculture
While digging into Agriculture I stumbled on to intensive farming and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). I’ve always been very interested in intensive farming practices and how the booming world gets it’s food.
CAFOs produce around 9% of the total US Methane emissions and it mostly comes from the animal waste. Also, while mulling this topic over, I realized that while interesting, CAFOs and intense animal feeding operations get a lot of lime light because of animal cruelty and the vegetarian/vegan movement. Talking to jaded customer ears about Methane using farming as a platform would be very difficult.
So, I decided to backtrack and investigate another area that was very interesting to me: Waste.
Waste generates more methane emissions that agriculture (12% vs 9% respectively). And the US is known for producing a LOT of waste. But what I was more interested in was on the waste management aspect of it, and less of the actual waste itself.
I dove deeper, and landed on two pretty big ways to deal with waste management that relate to Methane. Methane digestion, and composting.
A methane digester (or basically a cow poop recycled) is a device that takes the waste produced by livestock, mixes it with water, and heats it up to temperatures of 100+ degrees to get the breakdown process going and methane being released to rise to the top. Once that happens the methane is syphoned over to storage tanks in which it’s converted into heat and power. The solid waste is then de-watered and broken down into bedding, compost, and fertilizer.
Composting, also known as black gold, is the process of recycling organic material into a rich soil amendment. The regular way of composting usually requires three trays and for the person doing it to turn over the compost everyday to bring in more oxygen into the process that will eventually curate the compost. Vermicomposting is composting done by worms. Because these are included in the process the person no longer needs to turn over their pile as the worms organically do so, and at a much faster rate. Vermicomposting is very popular, especially in smaller apartments or urban areas.
So, the idea. After all of my research, I wanted to find a way to combine composting with a methane digester. I wanted to basically use every part of the organic waste and reuse it in a way that would leave a 0% footprint on the environment.
I went down this rabbit hole and started looking into ways of bringing this together. Unfortunately, I hit a dead end as the basic of these processes are the complete opposite. Methane Digestion is an anaerobic process, and composting is aerobic. I also realized that there would be no way of doing this in a cost-efficient way, and also doing this in a new way. I would be reinventing a wheel that had been reinvented many times before.
I had to start over then, and I did it by looking into other ways that methane is produced and/or exists.
From all the ways that I found, space was particularly interesting. Both Mars and Titan (Saturn’s moon) have Methane in them. And while Mars was them in significant quantities, Titan is awash with it. Most importantly, it’s covered in frozen methane.
What on earth is frozen methane? well, see the slide with those white things on it? THAT’S frozen methane.
It took me a trip to outer space to come back to the artic poles in our plates and find frozen methane. Titan has it yes, but so does earth! Here, it’s a bit different though. Here’s why:
There is a bunch of organic matter trapped deep into the earth’s permafrost – the layer under the deep ocean and deep into earth. Because of climate change, and the changing temperatures the permafrost is starting to melt. This is causing for all of that organic matter trapped in it to start thawing and hence decomposing. As it decomposes, it releases methane. The methane then travels up through the frozen artic lakes, and gets trapped into bubbles like shown in the picture.
They’re beautiful, and terribly dangerous. Referred to as “ice grenades,” scientists are now venturing out to these lakes to either set these bubbles on fire, or harvest the methane.
I’m very intrigued about frozen methane. The reasons why the permafrost is melting and what scientists are doing with it once it’s harvested. For my next steps I’m gonna dive deeper into this topics, and hopefully come out of this with a bite-sized piece of information that people can take away with them, represented into some sort of installation that will make an impact.