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May 30, 2014 02:25 AM EDT

Michigan Researchers Develop Technology That Converts Manure Into Clean Water

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In an attempt to resolve the agricultural problem of manure management, Michigan State University researchers have developed a new technology that extracts clean and drinkable water from manure. This system also removes harmful nutrients from the water, so it can be reused as a fertilizer.

The researchers said that this technology is particularly beneficial to areas with water scarcity problems.

The McLanahan Nutrient Separation System is an improved type of anaerobic digester that turns manure into energy and chemicals. The enhanced system performs the functions - ultra-filtration, air stripping and a reverse osmosis system - to generate hygienic water for livestock.

Researchers said that about 90 percent of manure is water. A 1,000-cow operation produces about 10 million gallons of manure annually, which is mostly water. The system now provides about 50 gallons of water from each 100 gallons of manure. The team is now planning to increase the level to 65 gallons.

Steve Safferman, an associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, said that the system not only conserves resources, but also plays a vital role in protecting the environment.

"Here in Michigan we have a tendency to take water for granted. 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," Safferman said in a statement.

Safferman said that besides water, Manure also includes nutrients, carbon and pathogens in large quantities that can cause negative environmental impacts if not properly handled.

Jim Wallace, a former Michigan State student now employed by McLanahan Corp. - which is working to develop the technology, said that the nutrient Ammonia poses health risk from an air-quality point of view.

According to Utah State University, animal waste is a primary source of pollution to water bodies. In order to maintain water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems, manure should be carefully controlled. Good management of manure preserves the health of the livestock, improves the quality of the soil without the use of synthetic fertilizers, restores nutrients to the soil, enhances pastures and gardens and protects the environment, particularly the quality of water. 

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