I magine if the manure excreted from one pig during the production cycle could produce up to 21 gal. of crude oil.

University of Illinois researchers are currently converting swine manure into crude oil using a thermochemical conversion (TCC) process. This chemical process reforms organic compounds in a heated and pressurized enclosure to produce oil and gas. Yuanhui Zhang, U of I agricultural engineer, says the TCC crude oil can be processed into a refined oil with a heating value similar to that of diesel fuel.

Zhang converts the swine manure to crude oil using a small-scale batch TCC reactor developed by his research team. “The process we have developed is quite different from most conventional TCC processes,” Zhang explains. “There is no need for the addition of a catalyst, and our process does not require pre-drying of the manure. Swine manure containing 80% water can be fed directly into the reactor.”

The next step for Zhang's research team is to develop the batch process into a continuous-mode process, thus reducing operating costs. Eventually Zhang hopes to develop a TCC pilot plant, which will increase production capacity and allow the researchers to analyze the oil properties and seek alternative applications of the TCC oil, such as in the making of plastics or ink.

With the batch reactor operating at the present efficiency, Zhang estimates a swine farm producing 10,000 market hogs per year could produce 5,000 barrels of crude oil per year.