Turning Cow Manure Into Clean Water & Fertlizer, MSU Might Just Save the Farm

Turning cow manure into clean water and fertilizer may be just the break the bovine needs from those who say the noble cow is slowly poisoning our planet with methane gasses. It only takes 1,000 cows to make 10 million gallons of manure a year and there are millions of cows in the world. That is a lot of cow pies.

Finding an environmentally safe application for the cow manure has been the goal for a team at Michigan State University which has been working for the last 10 years on the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System, something that can turn cow manure into clean water as well as produce fertilizer.

The McLanahan Nutrient Separation System is a combination of different technologies which contains an anaerobic digester at its heart. The digester is simply a contraption that takes waste, such as manure, and produces useable energy as a byproduct. When coupled with ultra-filtration, air stripping and a reverse osmosis system, the result is water clean enough for live stock to drink or to dispose of in an much more environmentally friendly manner.

cow manure filtration clean water fertilizer

“If you have 1,000 cows on your operation, they produce about 10 million gallons of manure a year,” said Steve Safferman, an associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering who is involved in the project. “About 90 percent of the manure is water but it contains large amounts of nutrients, carbon and pathogens that can have an environmental impact if not properly managed.”

One cited example in MSU Today was the sharing of water with the drought afflicted farms in the western United States.

“Here in Michigan we have a tendency to take water for granted,” Safferman said. “But out west, for example, where drought remains an issue, the accessibility of clean water could make the difference between a farm remaining viable or going out of business.”

The possibilities extend beyond just reducing water waste. By capturing the ammonia which cows are known for releasing into the atmosphere can be captured into a helpful fertilizer for crops. This has the potential to affect the prices of not only beef, but crops in general in the US and around the world once the system is moved into a commercial environment.

The current filtration process is about 50 percent effective giving 50 gallons of clean water for every 100 gallons of manure. The goal is to increase that percentage to 65 percent. A system that can turn cow manure into clean water as well as assist in crop growth gives hope to farms that want to remain viable rather than going out of business or being dependent on government assistance.

Image Source | MSU Today