- A Marquette research team will receive nearly half a million dollars in federal funds through an appropriations bill.
- The project focuses on converting waste products into energy.
- Researchers hope the project will help stabilize waste, produce renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs.
While politicians debate whether or not so-called earmarks waste taxpayer money, a Marquette research project is receiving federal funds to deal with real waste.
The project will receive $475,750 in federal funding for research on converting waste products into energy.
The funding comes from the $410 billion Omnibus Appropriations bill signed into law by President Obama on March 11, said Steve Schultz, manager of governmental and community affairs in the Office of Public Affairs. The bill will fund most federal government operations for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September, he said.
Marquette must still file documents with the U.S. Department of Energy to complete the process and to receive the earmark funds, Schultz said.
"As long as these funding opportunities exist, we would like to see Marquette represented in them," Schultz said.
Daniel Zitomer, an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will lead a research team of Marquette faculty and students to investigate stabilizing waste to produce renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The anaerobic biotechnology uses microorganisms to convert waste products, like human waste, cow manure and even candy product waste, to biogas. The biogas contains methane that can then be converted to energy, Zitomer said.
Marquette researchers have several options for receiving funding, such as competitive grants, private donations or federal funding, Schultz said. Zitomer consulted the Office of Public Affairs, which then submitted a request to U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) in January 2008.
The Department of Energy encourages research into alternative and renewable resources, and Moore believes Zitomer's research aligns with that goal, Schultz said.
"Congresswoman Moore saw this project as a meritorious use of funding that could advance Milwaukee, (the state of) Wisconsin and beyond," Schultz said.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) did not support any earmarks in the appropriations bill. He and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) have introduced the "Janesville line-item veto" to utilize accountability and common sense in spending taxpayer dollars, Ryan said in an e-mail statement.
"My opposition to spending bills that lack transparency, and my efforts to reform our budget process, is not a battle against earmarks," Ryan said. "It is a battle about the process."
Many earmarks are justified, Ryan said, but under the current "broken system," members of Congress do not have to justify them. He called the system "out of control," citing the imprisonment of some members of Congress for selling earmarks.
Besides the Marquette researchers on the waste conversion project, Zitomer will collaborate with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
A number of places in Wisconsin already utilize waste conversion technology, termed "digesters," Zitomer said. This project seeks to "optimize waste blending for co-digestion," which involves using waste from multiple sources to potentially produce more methane for energy conversion, he said.
Zitomer envisions the use of the technology increasing in the future and thus creating jobs.
"There will be a need for a trained workforce to optimize and design these processes," Zitomer said.
In addition to the federal funds, Zitomer's team has contracts with WE Energies and the MMSD for $150,000 each, he said. The agreements are for this project and other related work.