New technology extracts drinking water from manure

| June 10, 2014

We’ve written about a lot of innovative, creative recycling strategies over the life of this blog, but this one might take the cake. Or, should I say, the pie. The cow pie, to be precise.

Have I piqued your curiosity? Good. East Lansing’s Michigan State University, long known as a leader in agricultural studies and innovation, is working on a technology that could reportedly extract drinkable water from manure.

From Squirrel Nation.

Manure is up to 90 percent water. From Squirrel Nation.

While your nose might suggest otherwise, manure is actually up to 90 percent water. Cows need to consume an extraordinary amount of water in order to survive (beef cattle need up to 30 gallons of water per day, with lactating cows requiring up to double that amount).

Farmers and ranchers often struggle with sourcing adequate quantities of water for their herds, especially in parts of the world where water is already scarce due to the climate.

So why not offer their own water back to them? There is already technology that can extract energy and chemicals from manure. The new water-oriented technology, called the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System, is “an add-on” that “adds ultrafiltration, air stripping and a reverse osmosis system to produce water that’s clean enough for cattle to drink,” according to a report in Earth911. (No word on whether humans would be able—or willing—to drink the water.)

Steve Safferman is an associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering at at Michigan State University, and he’s working on the McLanahan system. Safferman says: “If you have 1,000 cows on your operation, they produce about 10 million gallons of manure a year…out west, where drought remains an issue, the accessibility of clean water could make the difference between a farm remaining viable or going out of business.”

Clean, recycled water isn’t the only benefit of the McLanahan system. By properly processing manure, these systems can also help mitigate the negative environmental impact of all the pathogens and carbon in manure that would otherwise remain on the ground.

The McLanahan system is still under development. Right now, it is capable of extracting 50 gallons of water per 100 gallons of manure, but they’re working on upping that percentage to 65 gallons of water per 100 gallons of manure.

And now you can go back to your lunch picturing 100 gallons of manure. (Sorry.)

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Category: Food, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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