Valorization of Manure Treatment for Poultry and Swine Operators

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Current practices for nutrient removal or recovery of phosphorus focus on chemical precipitation technologies, where the recovered products are low-grade, slow-release, low-value land applied fertilizers. Three significant deficiencies re this process – the cost of recovery is greater than the market value as commercial P fertilizer; the land application of such materials perpetuates the current cycle of pollutant nutrient “leakage” into surface waters; and the approach is not viable to address non-point source pollution or the legacy P present in impaired water bodies. Hence, research was initiated based on commercially available Hybrid Ion Exchange Nanomaterials (HIX-Nano), which remove naturally occurring arsenic from drinking water, and apply it to remove, recover, reconcentrate, reuse and recycle soluble reactive phosphorus from diverse organic waste and wastewaters.

What did we do? 

The infusion of high surface area nano iron oxide into conventional ion exchange resins, HIX-(Fe) Nano makes it possible to remove phosphates from wastewater and this has been proven by Lehigh U., ESSRE Consulting and others. Thus, residual dissolved phosphorus not chemically precipitated is captured and removed to supplement and complement the current P recovery processes or capture all of the dissolved P where nutrient recovery does not occur. The key to nutrient recovery is regeneration of the spent media and the conventional chemistry to achieve this is with a weak alkaline (caustic soda) rinse to desorb captured phosphate. The end product is a phosphate solution with a peak concentration of about 1600 mg/L. However, Na does not add any nutrient value whereas potassium hydroxide or ammonium hydroxide or both will add N and K to desorbed P and allow the custom formulation of N-P-K liquid products for hydroponic growers and greenhouse horticulturists. Moreover, when the source of concentrated N and P is livestock manures, there is a way to impart the micronutrients, Ca, Mg, Fe, etc. into the liquid formulations that will result in an N-P-K Plus product.

What have we learned? 

We know that making liquid fertilizer products from manures will help valorize manure treatment because hydroponic growers will pay a premium for a premixed N-P-K product and such an approach will limit the recycled nutrients “leakage” when direct land application is avoided. We also know that commercial synthetic fertilizer production is energy intensive and that any form of pollutant nutrient recovery/reuse will reduce GHG emissions via avoided fertilizer production.

We have also learned that we can do better in terms of manure valorization, if we take the view that even small amounts of soluble reactive phosphorus serve as a “biocatalyst” for intense and frequent harmful algae blooms in fresh and coastal waters. Hence, why not convert recovered nutrients into non-fertilizer products that are more highly valued in the marketplace. In mind are inorganic chemical catalysts that contain P and happen to be widely used in the Oil & Gas sector and Energy Storage sector, as follows:

1) Fluidized Catalytic Catalysts (FCC) – Phosphate-Zeolites (Oil Refineries)

2) Li-ion Battery Cathode Materials – LiFePO4 (Energy Storage)

Finally, we have also learned of recent advances in HIX-Nano technology, where the oxide of Nano Fe particles are replaced with that of Zirconium (Zr) particles. The HIX-(Zr) Nano resin exhibits enhanced P removal/regeneration potential and concurrent removal/recovery of pollutant nutrient N-Nitrate.

The attributes of the HIX-nanomaterial capabilities in manure treatment manifest in the advancement of 4Rs Nutrient Stewardship for fertilizers including land application of manure – Right type, Right place, Right rate and Right time – into “5Rs” of livestock manure management of the dissolved nutrient losses:  Remove, Recover, Reconcentrate, Reuse and Recycle.

The HIX-Nano can be configured and operated with equal efficiency for wastewater streams with high concentrations of nutrients (direct manure treatment after liquid/solids separation) or dilute runoff concentrations or very dilute legacy concentrations in surface or groundwater sources.  A commercial business model of HIX 5Rs treatment is established as a “hub” and “spoke” system.  The spokes are all of the pollutant nutrient pathways to surface waters shown in Figure 1, adapted from Wind’s version (2007).


Thus, the application of HIX-Nano technology serves as a barrier to pollutant nutrient leakage from all sources.  Hence, each farm, wastewater treatment plant, each urban stormwater runoff source within the watershed is a “spoke”.  Spent HIX-Nano is transported to a nearby Regeneration Center (Hub) and “refreshed” media is sent (i.e., recycled) back to the source (Spoke) for continued removal of nutrients.   At the Regeneration Center, the further processing of recovery via regeneration and reconcentration generates custom liquid fertilizer products and the aforementioned inorganic chemical catalysts and materials.  Hence, the Regeneration Center also serves as a Product Distribution Center – an all-purpose Hub.  Moreover, regardless of the location of the Hub within or outside the watershed, the recycling of nutrients in products that are not land applied fertilizer in essence “export” pollutant nutrients out of the watershed irrespective of the location of use.  Add the quantification of recycled nutrients to manufacture specific formulations, the HIX-Nano Hub-Spoke model becomes an additional revenue stream to producers for nutrient trading credits, where these programs exist, and a useful tool to develop trading credit programs where they do not exist.

Future Plans 

The potential to simultaneously Remove, Recover, Reconcentrate, Reuse and Recycle pollutant nutrients N and P from manures doubles the work ahead. For the reuse/recycle of fertilizer products confirmation is needed that N-P-K products will be free of impurities and commercially accepted after fertilization testing; similar confirmation path for N (NH4+ and N-NO3)-P-K products. Once established for reuse, HIX-Nano filters can be applied to the flushing discharge of spent fertilizer/nutrient solution for capture of N or P, thus closing the pollutant overload loop and recycling recycled pollutant nutrients.

For the reuse/recycle of treated water deficient in P when removing soluble P only, this needs to be tested for spray application onto soils oversaturated with P to assure compliance with the Nutrient Management Plans for N and P and thus safe reuse and reclamation of this water.

For the catalytic products thorough testing of composition (impurities), stability and performance testing needs to be carried out to gain acceptance as “green” catalysts or solution precursors for “green” catalysts. In either case, reconcentration must be carried out (thermal or mechanical) in a cost-effective way and in a way that carries out manure pathogen total destruction when the source of removed nutrients is from livestock manures .Similar research efforts are needed for battery cathode material manufactured from recycled pollutant P.  Moreover for both catalysts and battery materials, if the final disposition of these materials is landfilling, the application of HIX-Nano on landfill leachate containing P will close the nutrient pollution loop by applying 5Rs treatment principles.

Lastly, to address the Food-Energy-Water nexus challenge the future plans will favor HIX-Nano application on manure digestate after liquid/solids separations.  Nutrient recycling using HIX-Nano will also come into play with biomass to energy technologies such as Anaerboic Digestion and Hydrothermal Liquefaction, where the output is biofuels or biofuels and biochemical.

Corresponding author, title, and affiliation       

Ed Weinberg, PE, President, ESSRE Consulting, Inc.

Corresponding author email

Additional information               

Ed Weinberg can be reached at (215) 630-0546. Additional key people:

Dr. Mark Snyder, Lehigh U.; Dr. Raul Lobo, U of Delaware.



Dr. Arup K. SenGupta, Lehigh U.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2017. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Cary, NC. April 18-21, 2017. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

The Farm Manure to Energy Initiative: Using Excess Manure to Generate Farm Income in the Chesapeake’s Phosphorus Hotspots

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Currently, all the Bay states are working to achieve nutrient reduction goals from various pollution sources.  Significant reductions in phosphorus pollution from agriculture, particularly with respect to phosphorus losses from land application of manure are needed to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem.  Producers in high-density animal agricultural production areas such as Lancaster County region of Pennsylvania, the Delmarva Peninsula, and the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, need viable alternatives to local land application in order to meet nutrient reduction goals.

Field demonstrations will be monitored to determine whether the technologies are environmental beneficial, and economically and technically feasible. Specific measures of performance include: reliability and heat distribution, in-house air quality, avoided propane or electricity use, costs to install and maintain, fertilizer and economic value of ash or biochar produced, air emissions, and fate of poultry litter nutrients. Technology evaluation results will be shared on a clearinghouse website developed in partnership with eXtension.

The Farm Manure to Energy Initiative is also supporting efforts to develop markets for nutrient rich ash and biochar co-products. Field trials using nutrient rich ash and biochar from poultry litter thermochemical processes for fresh market vegetable production are currently underway at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Experiment Station.


The Farm Manure to Energy Initiative is a collaborative effort to evaluate the technical, environmental, and economic feasibility of farm-scale manure to energy technologies in an effort to expand management and revenue-generating opportunities for excess manure nutrients in concentrated animal production regions of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

What Did We Do?

The project team went through a comprehensive review process and identified three farm-scale, manure to energy technologies that we think have the potential to generate new revenue streams and provide alternatives to local land application of excess manure nutrients.  Installation and performance evaluation of two of these technologies on four host farms in the Chesapeake Bay region are underway. Partners have also completed a survey of financing options for farm-scale technology deployment and published a comprehensive financing resources guide for farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region.

What Have We Learned?

To date, we have not identified any manure to energy technologies that also provide alternatives to local land application of excess manure nutrients for liquid manures.  Thermochemical manure to energy technologies using poultry litter as a fuel source seem to show the most promise for offering opportunities to export excess nutrients from phosphorus hotspots in the Chesapeake Bay region. Producing heat for poultry houses is the most readily available energy capture option.  We did not identify any vendors with a proven approach to producing electricity via farm-scale, thermochemical manure to energy technologies. With respect to the fate of poultry litter nutrients, preliminary air emissions data indicates that most poultry litter nitrogen (greater than 98%) is converted to non-reactive nitrogen in the thermochemical process. Phosphorus and potash are preserved in the ash or biochar coproducts. Preliminary field trial results indicate that phosphorus in ash and biochar is bioavailable and can be used as a replacement for commercial phosphorus fertilizer, but bioavailability varied according to the thermochemical process.

Future Plans

We are currenty in the process of installing and measuring the performance of farm-scale demonstrations in the Chesapeake Bay region.  We are collaborating with the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center to develop a clearinghouse website for thermochemical farm-scale manure to energy technologies that will be hosted on the eXtension website.  Performance data from our projects will be shared on this website, which can also be used as a platform to share information about the performance of other farm-scale, thermochemical technology installations around the U.S. Technical training events using farm demonstrations as an educational platform will be hosted during the later half of the project. Additional field and row crop trials to demonstrate the fertilizer value of the concentrated nutrient coproducts are also planned using ash from farm demonstrations.


Jane Corson-Lassiter, USDA NRCS,; Kristen Hughes Evans, Executive Director, Sustainable Chesapeake

Additional partners in the Farm Manure to Energy Initiative include: Farm Pilot Project Coordination, Inc., University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Lancaster County Conservation District, the Virginia Tech Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, Chesapeake Bay Commission, and International Biochar Institute.

Additional Information


Funding for this project is provided by a grant from the USDA Conservation Innovation Grant program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation via the U.S. EPA Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program, the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, as well as technology vendors and host farmers participating in the technology demonstrations.


The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2013. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Denver, CO. April 1-5, 2013. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.