Award

USDA and Industry Partner Improve Nitrogen Recovery from Livestock and Municipal Wastes

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Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service Southeast Area (ARS SEA) have developed a new way to recover nitrogen from livestock wastes, which has been commercialized by Renewable Nutrients.  (more)

Conservation and recovery of nitrogen from livestock, industrial and municipal wastes is important for economic and environmental reasons. In the United States, the largest source of ammonia emissions — and the distinctive odor they generate — is livestock farming. 

The nitrogen components of ammonia are useful as a fertilizer, but many areas in the U.S. produce more manure-generated nutrients than the available cropland can assimilate. Therefore, the removal and recovery of ammonia is desirable when treating livestock waste because the nutrients can be exported off the farm. This could solve the problems of nitrogen surpluses in concentrated livestock production, provide a substitute for commercial fertilizers and create new businesses. 

The new technology recovers ammonia-nitrogen from wastes using gas-permeable membranes. The process involves passing ammonia through microporous hydrophobic membranes and concentrating it in a clear solution. The process can be used for removing and recovering nitrogen from two types of livestock waste: liquid manures in storage tanks and the air of poultry and animal barns. It can recover 98% of the nitrogen.

Renewable Nutrients, a small business with experience recovering phosphorus from wastes, was the recipient of the ammonia-trapping technology through two exclusive licenses granted by the USDA. A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) facilitated testing of a company-developed pilot unit to determine its suitability for municipal wastes and helped identify the best membrane material composition for commercial units. The technology is commercialized as Quick Wash® Nitrogen Removal & Ammonia Recovery.

Other technology transfer mechanisms and activities included: 

  • Five U.S. patents covering the ammonia capture technology using gas-permeable membranes developed by ARS for both liquid and air applications. 
  • Three on-farm demonstrations by ARS scientists for universities and research centers. At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in chicken houses fitted with the ammonia recovery system, the ammonia decreased 46% in the air and 45% in the chicken house bedding compared with standard processes. 
  • A pilot ICorps@ARS program for customer discovery and feedback of research needs by the livestock industry that broadened the impact of the research. 
  • Webinars and training on the new technology presented by scientists to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

In 2021, the technology was selected for expanded delivery by the Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA), a new initiative to facilitate goals of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40% while reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture by 50% by 2050. Implementing the new technology in municipal plants could have global positive impacts, increasing nitrogen recycling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Team members 
Dr. Matias Vanotti, USDA-ARS-SEA Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center, Dr. Ariel Szogi, USDA-ARS-SEA Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center, Dr. Maria Garcia-Gonzalez, ITACyL (Agricultural Technology Institute), Dr. Patricia Millner, USDA, ARS, BA - Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory, Dr. Fawzi Hashem University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences, Dr. Patrick Dube, Water Environment Federation (WEF), Water and Science Engineering Center, Dr. Michael Rothrock, Jr., USDA-ARS, US National Poultry Research Center, Egg Safety & Quality Research Unit, Gail Poulos, USDA-ARS-GWCC Office of Technology Transfer, and Jeff Dawson, Renewable Nutrients, LLC