A team of researchers is taking a new environmentally friendly approach to turning manure into fuel or fertilizer, according to the University of Nevada-Reno, whose chemical and materials engineering department was recently awarded $2.3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to lead a four-year project.
The “NEWIR Manure: Nutrient, Energy & Water Innovations for Resource Recovery” project, led by associate professor Chuck Coronella, is a systematic and multidisciplinary approach to study and develop a solution to environmental effects created by current concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), the university said in its announcement.
The growth of CAFOs over the years helps with dairy and meat production, but addressing the challenge of sustainable manure management at large-scale CAFOs is significant, the university said.
According to the University of Nevada-Reno, the project proposes technology to recover valuable energy, nutrient content and water from manure and to reduce environmental impacts on surrounding air, water and land. The new technology uses hydrothermal carbonization (HTC), a chemical process that converts organic compounds to structured carbon.
Previous attempts at turning manure into fuel or fertilizer have been difficult because it can be costly and difficult to handle large quantities of it, the announcement said.
“Our goal is to make CAFOs sustainable, with no smell or pollution,” Coronella said. “We have worked with a handful of farms in Fallon [in Churchill County, Nev.] and plan to study long-term animal feeding operations.”
Coronella said algae can be grown from the HTC-processed manure. Algae is a well-known feedstock option, and collaborators plan to study its nutritional value for animals. The overall success could significantly reduce the environmental footprint of dairy and cattle feed operations as well as increase food production capacity. An economic analysis will be performed to look at engineering, feedstocks, animal nutrition and the life-cycle cost analysis, the announcement said.
The team also includes University of Nevada-Reno assistant professor of chemical engineering Sage Hiibel and former professor of economics Kim Rollins (who is currently at the University of Connecticut), along with Pablo Cornejo of California State University-Chico and Antonio Faciola at the University of Florida. The project is a collaboration with the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain and will include an exchange of scholars over the duration of the four-year project.
“This project will have a direct benefit to communities and industry across the country,” said Manos Maragakis, dean of the University of Nevada-Reno's College of Engineering. “It is a major award that reflects the high competitiveness of the principal investigators, even more advancements in the chemical engineering department for research and the commitment of the college to be nationally and internationally competitive.”