Digested Solids – Forms, Markets and Trends

Are Digested Solids a Viable Product?

Anaerobic digesters for U.S. livestock operations are becoming more complex. A study of livestock-based digesters in 2003 found they were built largely to meet on-farm needs for power or gas. Digester residuals were mostly land applied as nutrients for crop production. A few used fibrous solids as animal bedding (King, 2003). In recent years, more livestock-based digester projects have been built by third-party developer/managers. Projects increasingly employ a systems approach, where individual product streams are managed in concert for greatest profit by the project manager. This approach holds the promise that digestate residuals, especially fiber solids, will no longer be neglected, but instead play a larger role in offsetting weak performance in energy revenues.

What did we do?

Looking closely at dairy-based digesters, the solids recovered after separation from the digester eflluent have unique characteristics. Most notably, these solids tend to be fibrous with high cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin content. Digestion also reduces pathogenic contaminants, volatile solids, odor, and viable weed seeds (MacConnell, 2010). These qualities can be influenced by the makeup of an animal’s feed and the use of co-digestion feedstocks, such as municipal or industrial wastes or other agricultural manures or byproducts

Table 1 shows the characteristics of dairy AD solids compared to raw manure and raw separated solids (MacConnell, 2010).

Table 1. Fiber Characteristics

Table 1.

As is. In bulk. Sold to a wholesale buyer—this is the easiest way to sell digested dairy fiber. Through a combination of literature search and expert interviews, this presentation looks at the methods project managers might use to add more value to their digested fiber.

What have we learned?

Composting. Perhaps the most basic way to add value to digested dairy fiber is simply to apply basic compost processing methods—aerating the material under controlled conditions for sufficient time to reduce odor and stabilize the organic matter. While already low in pathogens, hot composting practices can give additional assurance of pathogen reduction. In co-digestion situations, screening the material to remove contaminants and assure consistency and uniformity is desired. Even wholesale buyers will pay more for material that is already composted (King 2003)

Processing to compete – replacing peat. Because of its physical similarity, researchers have explored using digested dairy fiber as a direct replacement for peat moss in nursery and horticulture mixes. WSU was an early source of research and growth trials on such uses. Their research showed that with minimal post-digestion treatment, amended digested dairy fiber performed as well or better than peat in soilless mixes. (MacConnell, 2007, and Kruger, 2008) In 2007, Organix, a Washington company, announced the first shipments of RePeat, using their patent-pending FibreRite production system. Since then several new varieties of these peat replacements have hit the market nationwide, under such brands as Magic Dirt, EnerGro, and MooFiber.

Organic certification. Organic gardening and food production is growing rapidly in Washington state and around the nation. Getting an organic certification for organic matter and nutrients that have been digested and composted will add significant value to the final product (King, 2003).

Branding and marketing for retail. Moving away from bulk and wholesale are the next steps in moving material up the value chain. However, putting product in bags and selling into retail markets requires significant investments in packaging, branding, marketing and sales. This is like adding an additional business onto the back end of a digester project and demands its own feasibility analysis.

Vermicomposting. Using earthworms, especially redworms, to further process fiber solids and excrete earthworm castings, produces another specialty soil product. Vermicomposts and earthworm castings are well-known and appreciated in some growers in some markets. They are often used as a small additive in specialty soil mixes to allow the use of “earthworm castings” on the list of ingredients. Two commercial examples of vermicompost production lie on opposite coasts—Sonoma Valley Worm Farm in California and Worm Power in New York. Sonoma Valley Worm Farm direct markets high-quality vermicompost to a variety of growers throughout their region, with special emphasis on vineyards. Worm Power topped 2 million pounds of production in 2012 and signed an agreement with Rochester, NY-based Harris Seeds to market its vermicompost products regionally.

Specialty products produced from the separated fiber materials are another area of interest. Perhaps the best known of such products are the biodegradable planting nursery pots sold as Cow Pots by the Fruend Dairy Farm in Connecticut.

Biochar. This is another specialty product from a fledgling industry that fits in niche markets. It could be used to process digested fiber. It has received a strong research focus in the Pacific Northwest. The value of biochar in landscape or agricultural uses is still being studied, though at present it appears to have less to do with agronomic benefit, than on measured benefits for carbon sequestration and the value given to these benefits through carbon credits or other mechanisms (Galinato, 2011). On the other hand, replacing biochar for conventional forms of activated carbon for filtering stormwater or wastewaters shows some promising results and is getting a lot of attention.

Future Plans      

We will continue to evaluate methods to add value and publish the full results in a Anaerobic Digestion technology brief on this topic.


Jim Jensen, Sr. Bioenergy & Alt Fuel Specialist, Washington State University Energy Program jensenj@energy.wsu.edu

Craig Frear, Chad Kruger, and Georgine Yorgey, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Additional information  


Galinato, S., Yoder, J., Granatstein, D., 2011. The economic value of biochar in crop production. Energy Policy.

King, 2003. Study to Evaluate the Price and Markets for Residual Solids from a Dairy Cow Manure Anaerobic Digester—Final Report, King County Solid Waste, Seattle, WA.

Kruger, Chad, et.al., 2008. High-quality fiber and fertilizer as co-products from anaerobic digestion. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.

MacConnell, C.B., Collins, H.P., 2007. Utilization of re-processed anaerobically digested fiber from dairy manure as a container media substrate. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Growing Media, Nottingham, UK.

MacConnell, C., Frear, C., Liao W., 2010. Pretreatment of AD-treated fibrous solids for value-added container media market, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Pullman, WA.


This research was supported by funding from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Contract #2012-6800219814; Biomass Research Funds from the Washington State University Agricultural Research Center; and the Washington State Department of Ecology, Waste 2 Resources Program.

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. 2015. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Seattle, WA. March 31-April 3, 2015. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.


Integrating Manure into Feed Ration Optimization

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* Presentation slides are available at the bottom of the page.


Ration optimization models currently minimize the purchase price of feeds used to meet nutrient requirements.  Not included in optimization models is the value of manure nutrients resulting from ration alternatives.  This project extends the linear program that is used to minimize ration cost to include the value of manure excreted and stored.  Microsoft EXCEL’s Solver GRG Nonlinear Add-in is used to optimize the integrated decision because of the non-linear aspects of manure excretion as a function of feed fed.

Several economic and production changes over the last 10 years warrant an investigation of the impact of optimizing both feed and manure decisions simultaneously.  Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS) have become a common feed high in phosphorus, lessening the need for inorganic phosphorus sources.  Including DDGS in the diet also increases the manure concentration of phosphorus.  If phosphorus is needed on nearby crop fields, there is potential to increase manure value while simultaneously reducing feed cost.  In contrast, feeding phytase may reduce feed cost, while reducing manure value if phosphorus in manure is valued.  Feeding synthetic amino acids can also reduce feed cost while reducing the amount of nitrogen excreted and available as a fertilizer in the manure.  Adding to the importance of considering manure value is the increased costs of fertilizers.  Manure is increasingly seen as a viable alternative to commercial fertilizers and might affect the whole farm profitability if included in the ration cost decision. 

This project considers swine rations and examines how they might have changed during the past 10 years if manure value had been incorporated into the ration optimization decision.  We will attempt to determine when manure fertilizer value relative to feed costs justifies integrating feed and manure optimization. Results indicate that incorporating manure value into the optimization routine would change some diet formulations.

Why Consider Manure Nutrients When Balancing Rations?

The value of manure supplied nutrients (N, P and K) has increased significantly over the past decade. Feedstuffs, such as DDGS, have been incorporated into the diets in ways that reduce the need for P supplementation. These developments have moved manure from a waste product to a co-product in livestock production.  By integrating feed and manure management decisions it was hypothesized that profit could be improved.

What Did We Do?

The 2012 version of the National Swine Nutrition Guide (NSNG) ration software contains an optimization model for least cost ration formulation that calculates the potential manure value associated with different optimized diets.  This recognition of the value of manure is an important contribution. 

We incorporated the value of manure (as estimated by the NSNG) into the least cost ration optimization routine so that the objective function changed from minimizing the cost of feed to minimizing the net cost of feed.  Net diet cost was defined as the cost of feed less the value of manure.  Optimization of this equation required the use of the GRG non-linear optimization routine of Microsoft EXCEL.

This project evaluated least cost swine rations and how they might have changed during the past 10 years if manure value had been incorporated into the ration optimization decision.  We specifically examined rations for 50-100 lb. and 200-250 lb. pigs. Rations were optimized with the following limitations: 1) manure was/was not included in the objective function; 2) DDGS were/were not allowed as a feedstuff in the rations.

What Have We Learned?

Assuming that the full value of the manure could be obtained, incorporating manure into the least cost ration optimization reduced net diet cost seven of the last 10 years for 50-100 lb. and 200-250 lb. pigs when DDGS were allowed in the diets.  The ten-year mean improvement in net diet cost was $0.61/ton with a range from $0 to $8.41/ton of feed. More typically differences were small, exceeding $1.00/ton only in 2005 and 2006. Increasing manure value required increasing feed cost by an a 10-year average of $1.14/ton.  The uncertainty in extracting manure value may make farmers hesitant to increase feed cost in hopes of capturing additional manure value.  Two years may provide insight into the opportunity to incorporate manure value into the least cost feed decision.  In 2006, a savings of $8.41/ton of feed fed was obtained by including 40% DDGS in the 50-100 lb. pig diet; this savings required increasing the feed cost by $1.76/ton resulting in a $10.18/ton increase in manure value in associated excreted nutrients.  In 2009, a net ration savings of $.61/ton was obtained by eliminating phytase which was in the original least cost ration formulation.  Phytase reduced the need for expensive phosphorus feedstuffs but not sufficiently when the value of manure was considered.

Future Plans

Non-linear optimization routines may find local optima rather than a global optimum.  A procedure needs to be developed that insures that the global optimum is found before incorporating manure into the least cost ration decision will become widespread.


Dr. Ray Massey, Extension Professor, Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Missouri,  masseyr@missouri.edu

John Lory, Extension Associate Professor of Extension, Division of Plant Science, University of Missouri

Marcia Shannon, Associate Professor, Swine Nutrition, University of Missouri

Additional Information

The 2012 version of the National Swine Nutrition Guide can be found at the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence (https://www.usporkcenter.org/product/national-swine-nutrition-guide/


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.