It’s been in the works for about a decade, but North American and international patents have been issued to Alberta-based Himark BioGas International for its unique biogas production technology.
It’s a major step for the company, which was created to find a way to use manure from Highland Feeders as a biogas feedstock.
“It’s part of our strategy to protect the core intellectual property that makes our system work better than anybody else’s,” said Trevor Nickel, Himark’s general manager. “We’ve been very careful to try to broadly protect our patents as much as possible.”
Himark has refined and commercialized technology initially developed by a consortium of feedlots and the Alberta Research Council. In addition to a biogas and ethanol production facility located next to the feedlot at Hairy Hill, its technology is also in use at one of the world’s largest biogas plants in Oakley, Kansas.
Turning feedlot manure into biogas is a tricky process because it is laden with sand and other solids. The two patents are for technology that addresses those issues — one is for a High Solids Infeed System (HiSIS) for handling and processing mixed waste, and the other for a Clean Slate anaerobic tank grit removal system.
Patenting the technology means the company can now more openly show potential customers “how our system ticks,” said Nickel.
Potential customers will be able to independently assess the engineering of the system, which will give them the confidence that the system works as advertised. That, in turn, will also make it easier for clients to get financing.
Himark is targeting customers south of the border, added Nickel.
“We have had very good success marketing our technology into the United States,” he said. “There is a high demand for it, and there are a number of programs that have made anaerobic digestion uptake faster and easier in the States.”
Biogas is used to generate electricity and Himark is currently building three projects in the one-half- to one-megawatt range for NEO Energy in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In this case, it is using food waste and agricultural byproducts as the raw material, converting it to biogas and organic fertilizer byproducts. (The Hairy Hill facility also now runs largely on organic waste from Edmonton and surrounding municipalities.)
But Himark also has a number of projects on the front burner to use feedlot manure as the main feedstock, said Nickel.
“We’re definitely the world leader in dealing with open-pen feedlot manure,” he said.
When Himark first started refining the technology about 10 years ago, it discovered many biogas production challenges and in some cases, anaerobic digester failures, when feeding feedlot manure into digester tanks. The HiSIS system removes solid and indigestible material such as sand, rocks, plastic and metal which can interfere with mechanical, chemical, and biological processes in the anaerobic digester.
The Clean Slate technology takes the matter of handling solids a step further. It removes indigestible solids and inorganic foreign objects which settle on the tank floor during the production of methane-rich biogas. This allows continuous production without the expensive and inconvenient need to shut down the anaerobic digestion tanks and clean them out.
In addition to the U.S., Himark has identified several high-priority markets for its technology, said Nickel, adding it looks for growing economies where there are poorly developed waste management systems.