Monday, March 31, 2014

Meeting Climate Targets May Require Reducing Meat, Dairy Consumption

Date: March 30, 2014

Geenhouse gas emissions from food production may threaten the UN climate target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

On Monday 31 March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents their report on the impacts of climate change.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and transportation sectors currently account for the largest share of climate pollution. However, a study from Chalmers now shows that eliminating these emissions would not guarantee staying below the UN limit. Emissions from agriculture threaten to keep increasing as global meat and dairy consumption increases. If agricultural emissions are not addressed, nitrous oxide from fields and methane from livestock may double by 2070. This alone would make meeting the climate target essentially impossible.

"We have shown that reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural climate pollution down to safe levels," says Fredrik Hedenus, one of the study authors. "Broad dietary change can take a long time. We should already be thinking about how we can make our food more climate friendly."

By 2070, there will be many more of us on this planet. Diets high in meat, milk, cheese, and other food associated with high emissions are expected to become more common. Because agricultural emissions are difficult and expensive to reduce via changes in production methods or technology, these growing numbers of people, eating more meat and dairy, entail increasing amounts of climate pollution from the food sector.

"These emissions can be reduced with efficiency gains in meat and dairy production, as well as with the aid of new technology," says co-author Stefan Wirsenius. "But the potential reductions from these measures are fairly limited and will probably not suffice to keep us within the climate limit, if meat and dairy consumption continue to grow."

Beef and lamb account for the largest agricultural emissions, relative to the energy they provide. By 2050, estimates indicate that beef and lamb will account for half of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, while only contributing 3 percent of human calorie intake. Cheese and other dairy products will account for about one quarter of total agricultural climate pollution.

Source: Chalmers University of Technology

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Superparamagnetic" Particles Used to Harvest Phosphorus from Polluted Water

A demonstration of how the phosphorus-laden particles can be removed from water using a magnet.

Phosphorus is a mineral that's widely used in fertilizer, which itself has an unfortunate tendency to leach out of farmers' fields and into our waterways. Now, researchers from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research have devised a method of retrieving some of that phosphorus from the water – thus both reducing pollution, and providing a source of reclaimed phosphorus.

The Fraunhofer team has been using superparamagnetic particles, which are ordinarily non-magnetic, but that turn magnetic when exposed to a magnetic field. These particles also contain bonding sites for phosphorus, and are added to phosphorus-polluted water. When this happens, the phosphorus anions in the water bond with the particles.

The particles, along with the attached anions, are then removed from the water simply using a magnet. Once the removed particles are in turn removed from the magnetic field, they de-magnetize and release the phosphorus for subsequent re-use. The water, meanwhile, is left phosophorus-free.

Apparently the technology could be tweaked to remove other types of pollutants, such as heavy metals, by applying different types of bonding sites to the particles.

Fraunhofer developed the system in collaboration with the University of Stuttgart.

Source: Fraunhofer

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Blue Diversion Toilet is Flushed with Success

The Closed-System Blue Diversion Toilet is designed for Off-grid Use

Two years ago, an off-grid closed-system toilet known as the Diversion won an award at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's "Reinventing the Toilet" fair. Created by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) and now called the Blue Diversion, it recently also won the title of Most Innovative Project (Europe/West Asia), as bestowed by the International Water Association. So, what makes it so special? Well, for one thing, the same water that flushes it is subsequently used in its hand-washing sink.

Here's how the Blue Diversion works ...

Feces, urine, and flush water are separated right below the toilet bowl. The first two items are then stored in sealed compartments, for subsequent use as fertilizer. The water, because it's used more to rinse out the bowl than to actually transport the waste, isn't as contaminated as what goes down a regular toilet's pipes. It's still pretty disgusting, though, so it's pumped into a filtration system in the back wall of the setup.

There, it passes through a bioreactor that neutralizes organic matter and ammonia, along with an ultrafiltration membrane that blocks pathogenic organisms such as bacteria and viruses. Any remaining trace amounts of organic matter and ammonia are then neutralized by an electrolysis unit, which also produces chlorine to disinfect the water.

From there, gravity carries the water down to be used in the sink, in a bidet-style shower head, or to rinse out the bowl once again. According to Eawag, the same water is good for about 50 uses per day. Power for the pumps, electrolysis unit and electronics are provided by a top-mounted photovoltaic panel.

Although the whole water-reuse thing may still sound kind of ... yucky to some people, the Blue Diversion has reportedly been successfully field-tested in Uganda and Kenya. Eawag is currently looking for industrial partners to help with large-scale production, and hope to sell it for use in developing nations and off-grid locations for about US$500 per unit.

... and should you not be into squatting, a sit-down version is due to come out next year.

Source: Eawag, Blue Diversion.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Environmental Engineering Important to Farms Today

February 24, 2014 6:00 am • By ANDREA JOHNSON, Minnesota Farm Guide Assistant Editor

WILLMAR, Minn. – Environmental engineers have a role in helping 21st century farms succeed.

Once focused on designing systems for municipalities and industry, environmental engineers now also provide consulting services to livestock and crop farms.

One such firm is Bollig Inc founded in 2007 by Brian Bollig, P.E., a Registered Professional Engineering consultant. With a staff of 15 located in Willmar, Bollig Inc offers engineering and environmental services in the municipal, land development, agency, agricultural and watershed sectors.

"Our goal as a company is to really reach out to our clients, really understand what their needs are, and design facilities to meet their needs," said Bollig.

Bollig's senior engineer for the ag sector is Cris Skonard, Ph.D., P.E. He earned a bachelor's and master's from South Dakota State University, and a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Over the past 10 years, Skonard has worked with hundreds of farmers on small and large projects.

Every project is unique.

As one example of what he does, last year, Skonard began working with Beckman Farms, Inc., a dairy operation near Kerkhoven, Minn., that intended to build a 120-cow robotic barn.

"We were working with a new site, so it was critical to sit down with the Beckmans to find out what they were going to do," said Skonard. "It's very important that the farmer tells me how they want to manage their operation. I'm going to design around the way they want to operate their farm."

They wanted to build the new farm site on the same section as their home farm, but on the opposite corner – a piece of land owned by the Beckman family.

The Beckmans asked Bollig Inc to help them determine the best farm site that would stay workable and profitable long term.

Skonard met with the Beckmans at the proposed farm site to get a sense of the lay of the land, and evaluate the physical features that could be incorporated into the final design. The farmland had a natural draw, a lower and flat region, and an elevated area.

After discussions and analysis, the Beckmans decided to build close to the same location where a previous farm site had been located – but farther back from the road.

There were many reasons for their decision.

The site they chose is on the higher region of the farmland, allowing for good ventilation and air movement. There is a hay shed already on the location.

Not real apparent from the road, the new site will not attract unexpected visitors. It is also set up well for planting trees and using other natural features to minimize odor and remain protected from the elements.

The selected farm site stayed away from any water features, including wetlands.

"If you see wetlands, we have to worry about a high water table," Skonard said.

The natural lay of the land also allowed a good use of available fill material.

In addition, the site offered the most potential for expansion.

With the selection of the site, the Beckmans wanted Bollig Inc to help develop a surface drainage system that would keep the driveway and working area in good shape. They wanted to minimize challenges for trucks coming in and leaving the site.

"We wanted to make sure we didn't have any surface water draining through the feed pad, and that we had adequate room to move around, and maneuver pumping equipment for manure removal," said Skonard.

Bollig pointed out the importance of accounting for water on the farm site.

"Every drop of water needs to go somewhere," he said. "Some is going to infiltrate, but most of it is going to drain. The more you disturb the earth, the more it's going to run off.

"Where that runoff is going to go, how it gets there, and how much – is important and affects future operations," he continued.

"You start to design to make sure the water isn't going where you don't want it to go. If you are designing a basin, make sure you are not getting excess runoff into your basin. You design around those items that would cause issues."

The team at Bollig Inc used software to create topographical maps for the Beckmans. By setting the elevations of various farm components, the software program estimates how much dirt has to be moved.

"That is a huge factor that is overlooked," said Bollig. "It takes fuel and it costs money to move dirt, so we want to minimize moving it."

With today's software programs, Skonard can overlay existing farm maps, aerial or satellite maps, topographical maps and more to render a picture of how a farm site will look.

For the Beckmans' site, Skonard designed the locations for the barn, feed pad, manure basin and more.

"We did some preliminary sizing on the basin," he said. "We know how many cows roughly, how much manure they are going to produce, and type of bedding used – so once we have all of that information from the producer, we make a preliminary size estimate on the basin."

Skonard originally wanted to construct a basin that was 15 feet deep to minimize the basin surface area and limit the amount of rain that would fall directly into the basin.

Several soil borings were advanced down to 20 feet – 5 feet below the proposed bottom of the basin. The soils were tested to ensure they met design standards.

"We found some material that wasn't quite suitable, so we went back to the drawing board, we went back to the owners and we ended up raising the basin – not going as deep and a little wider," he said. The final design called for a basin that was 180- by 170-feet and 12-feet deep.

Bollig pointed out that manure basins can have a clay base, and it's possible to haul clay in for the base. Clay is the preferred liner material due to costs; however, some basin liners are made from concrete or use a synthetic liner due to poor soils or producer preference.

Manure basins cannot be constructed in regional water tables, but they can be located in "perched-water" soils – finer-grained soils that hold water in pores.

"You think when you are on a hill, you are out of that, but that is not true," Bollig said. "The perched-water soils will follow the hill."

In 95 percent of farm sites located in the "Prairie Pothole" region, a perimeter tile line will be needed around a basin to protect the basin liner.

Skonard also verifies that a livestock owner has sufficient acreage to apply manure in an environmentally appropriate manner to meet the nutrient needs of the crop.

When the site plan is finalized, Bollig Inc can assist the owner/operator in obtaining permits, providing testimony at hearing sessions, and helping to secure grants to assist with the project financing.

After everything was approved at the Beckmans' site, Skonard participated in preconstruction meetings with the contractors, owners and others. During construction, he conducted periodic inspections that included monitoring the soil density to make certain that adequate soil compaction occurred during the liner installation.

He also verified elevations and locations of farm structures, and ensured that the perimeter tile – as well as all concrete work – was installed correctly.

"The MPCA requires that we are out monitoring and testing," he said. "I have to certify to the MPCA that these components are constructed according to the developed plans for the site."

The Beckmans moved cows to their new robotic barn on Dec. 10, 2013. The first two months were hectic as they trained cows to enter the robotic milkers. After about three weeks of training, the cows figured out the system and were milking on their own.

The Beckmans opted for a center manure reception pit in the barn. About one week's worth of manure is stored, and then it is pumped to the basin. The basin will be pumped out in the fall, and the liquid material will be injected into the soil to help with crop yields.

Bollig Inc is part of the team that remains available to the Beckmans, and to many other farming operations.

Every farm has its own attributes, challenges and methods for success.

"There could be multiple layers that we are dealing with on any specific project," said Skonard. "Each project is unique."

He encourages farmers to give him a call with their questions regarding liquid manure storage systems, manure stacking slab structures, sand lanes, concrete pits, feed pad runoff control measures, temporary manure storage, odor issues, water management, regulatory permits and more.

"There is a lot of planning that goes in, and there are so many factors that start to go with that," said Bollig. "We don't mind answering questions over the phone. Site planning is one of the often overlooked items that really is a huge factor in the success of a farm."

In general, successful farmers in 2014 have a good idea of how they want to move their farming operations ahead in the future. The challenge is dealing with the realities of the farm today and moving toward that future. Farmers have many questions as they think and work through the financial, logistical and generational roadblocks that must be overcome to move forward.

Spending time talking and developing a master plan for the farm can go a long way toward keeping the farm viable throughout the 21st century.

"Once you have an overall plan, you can move forward at whatever pace you want," Bollig said.

Visit for more information.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

National Academies – Report on Sustainable Reuse and Recycling

Energy and Water Considerations for the Sustainable Reuse and Recycling of Materials

In September 2013, the STS Program convened a meeting of research leaders and technical experts in private industry as well as representatives from government and academia to examine the energy-water considerations of material reuse and recycling. The meeting examined the data and research needs for assessing the energy-water linkages with the reuse and recycling of waste streams and materials; the technologies and approaches needed to further recycling and reuse strategies; and how the public and private sectors can leverage the efforts of key stakeholders to further technological development, innovation, data collection, and research. This meeting summary synthesizes the discussions held during the event.

Source: For more information, go to

Click here to download the meeting summary