Student using grass to make gas
A UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES, Cave Hill Campus student is producing biofuel using grass clippings from landscaping and it is being used to power a suite of laboratories on the campus.
Nikolai Holder, who is pursuing a doctorate in environmental science, has been working on the project for four years.
He designed and constructed an apparatus in February and began testing coconut husks, river tamarind, Sargassum seaweed, fish offal, sugar cane bagasse and ten different types of grass – called substrates – for their methane potential.
With the help of two undergraduate students, he hit pay dirt with the grass and started producing gas by early June.
“I expanded on the system that I had initially, and I started feeding it some of the grass clippings from around campus after landscaping work by maintenance. I used it to produce biogas. I took it, compressed it so it’s biomethane and I’m using it to power a section of the biology building, which is eight labs – six research labs, the biology prep room and a teaching lab,” he said.
“In October, we ran the lab off the compressed biomethane. Earlier this month, we switched over almost completely, though there’s a propane canister there as backup. So far, it’s working perfectly.”
Holder was among the cohort of researchers who made presentations during the Student Research Symposium hosted Friday at Cave Hill.
His research area is anaerobic digestion technology, which uses micro-organisms to biochemically convert organic matter into biofuel or methane, popularly known as natural gas.
“I have plans to expand because we also have two more teaching labs that use bunsen burners. As well as the chemistry block . . . we have two canteens and kiosks that use LPG. So it’d be good if we use the landscaping waste on campus to produce our own biomethane and supply those areas,” he told the
Holder said the project fell within Cave Hill’s Smart Campus initiative and would not only reduce its carbon footprint and waste output, but also focus on green technologies and clean fuel production.
Given Barbados’ high fuel import bill, his sights are set beyond the university.
“What we’re looking to do is a methane potential map of the island. So, this study is looking at testing the yield of methane gas per unit acre. Once we can do that, we can then apply that to the island and see if different types of grass grow in a certain spot, if they would yield this much.”
Coconut husk is another area the PHD hopeful is considering working on due to the booming coconut industry.
Providing an overall picture of the research cohort at the campus, director of Graduate Studies and Research Professor Winston Moore said there were 88 students registered in doctoral programmes, while 85 students were pursuing Master of Philosophy degrees as of November 13.
Just over $275 000 was available for students through the Postgraduate Research Fund.
NIKOLAI HOLDER conducting a hydrogen experiment with Coleridge & Parry School studentKerra Joseph-gardener during Friday’s Open Day at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies. During the demonstration, Joseph-gardener was told to hold soapy water containing hydrogen gas in her hand, which created fire when lit. Holder assured it was harmless.