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Methane Sensor Used in Science Fair Project

Cows in field

Which animal waste has the potential to produce the most methane? That was the question posed by Sean Weiss in his “Waste to Watts” science fair project that won the Orange County Science Fair for Alternative Energy.

Sean, who currently attends middle school in California, said the idea for the project first occurred to him while he was cleaning up after the family dog.

“Before starting this experiment, on one of our family trips I learned that some cow farms in the northern part of the Central California basin were using some of the methane from the waste to power their machinery, since it was readily available and a green gas that is less damaging to the environment. The first thing I researched was how they do this, and found that one of the easiest ways to harness the energy from the methane is to process the waste in a digester.  The digester would then allow us to process the methane gas into energy by burning it,” Sean said in his written project.

To complete the experiment, Sean collected waste from cows, horses, pig and dogs. He then built digesters out of large plastic jars in his back yard. An equal amount of waste was put in each digester, then over 5 weeks the methane gas output was measured in each sample using one of our methane sensors.

Sean’s results were interesting. He found that “cow waste has the potential to produce more energy than any other animal because it produces a long-term count of methane gas. It was able to produce easily captured methane for over a month and still continues to produce weeks later.”

In fact, his results showed that after week 5, the methane from the cow waste produced the equivalent number of BTUs to run a kitchen range for 2 hours, a water heater for 4 hours and a refrigerator for an entire day.

In addition to the Orange County Science fair, Sean will compete in the Broadcom Masters Competition in October and the California Science Fair held at USC. His entry was also accepted into the Google Science Fair and the 3M Innovator Science Fair.

We’re proud of Sean and all the young people who use our sensors to expand their knowledge of science.

Watch Sean describe his project here.

Photo by Mitul Shah from Burst

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