Animal manure could create a new energy market in Iowa

A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)
A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)

Nick Fetty | April 23, 2015

Iowa could soon use the byproducts from two of its biggest industries – crop and livestock production – to create a new market in renewable fuel production, according to a report in Midwest Energy News.

This potential new market is the result of policy and economics. Last summer, a revision to EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) increased the value of biogas in the fuel marketplace. The revision means biogas will be added to the list of advanced cellulosic biofuels which refineries must either produce or purchase credits for. The quantity of cellulosic fuels that must be blended with gasoline is expected to increase over the next eight years which means higher prices for renewable fuels. Amanda Bilek, government affairs manager at the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, said this change to the RFS has created a new market for fuels produced using manure and other organic waste.

A 2013 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Iowa led the nation in manure production. The study also examined methane content in not just manure but also wastewater, landfills and industrial as well as commercial organic waste. The Hawkeye State ranked 8th nationally for methane generation potential.

Iowa State University teamed up with EcoEngineers out of Des Moines to create an interactive map and website which calculates the amount of methane-containing waste within up to a 50-mile radius. Biogas production in Iowa has been modest thus far but officials expect the industry to grow in the coming years.

UMichigan study examines potential for urine as fertilizer

A recent study at the University of Michigan examines the potential of using human urine to fertilize food crops. (Twitter/Michigan Engineering)
Researchers at the University of Michigan set up porta-potties on campus Wednesday to collect urine samples for fertilizer research. (Twitter/Michigan Engineering)

Nick Fetty | April 2, 2015

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering are studying whether human urine can be disinfected and then used to fertilize food crops.

The researchers set up two porta-potties on campus Wednesday and were able to collect samples from more than 200 individuals. The study is focusing on urine because of its abundance as well as its nitrogen and phosphorus content. The researchers hope to use the urine to create a solid fertilizer product known as “struvite.” Not only can the urine be beneficial for plant growth but removing it from sewage waste streams has other benefits such as: (1) reducing nutrients in waterways, (2) streamlining wastewater treatment, (3) tackling the issue of pharmaceutical contamination, and (4) lessening the need to make synthetic fertilizers.

“These nutrients often remain in the effluent that wastewater treatment plants discharge back into rivers. In waterways, nutrient pollution can lead to algal blooms and dead zones where fish can’t survive,” the press release said. “They can also produce toxins that could taint drinking water. Beyond nutrients, urine carries most of the excess pharmaceuticals that our bodies don’t use when we take medications.”

The study is funded with a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is part of the country’s first “large-scale pilot project” for recycling urine. The University of Michigan is working with four other institutions on the project including the Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Read more about the Toilet To Table project.

Iowa could soon face water situation similar to Toledo

Nick Fetty | August 7, 2014
Blue green algae growing on Lake Eric. ( NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr)
Blue green algae growing on Lake Erie. (NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr)

Algae blooms in Iowa could contaminate the water supply, similar to what recently happened in Toledo, and according to one expert, “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus inundate Iowa waterways and that coupled with high temperatures provides the perfect breeding ground for algae. The state has implemented a voluntary plan which encourages farmers to practice agricultural techniques that will lessen the amount of fertilizer run-off which leads to contaminated waterways in Iowa.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently advised beach-goers to avoid the waters at Lake Red Rock in Marion County due to excessively high levels of blue green algae which is known to contain toxins that are harmful to humans and can be lethal for animals. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises swimmers to take extra precaution in Iowa lakes during this time of the year. There are currently about dozen state-operated beaches in Iowa where swimming is not advised.

Attornys general from Iowa and 14 other agricultural and ranching states have spoken out against a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule for the Clean Water Act, fearing the proposal would place excessive regulations on farmers and ranchers. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has defended the proposal and said it does not intend to place strict federal regulations on farmers.

Approximately 600 households in southwest Iowa were recently issued a boil order before consuming tap water after water quality tests concluded that chlorine levels were not sufficient. Chlorine is used to kill bacteria and other harmful toxins as part of the water filtration process but there was no indication that bacteria or other toxins had actually contaminated the water supply.

On the Radio: University of Iowa Air Quality Grant

Photo by; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers a study by the University of Iowa that was funded by a grant from the EPA. Continue reading for the transcript, or listen to the audio below.

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