Scientists turn cow manure into clean drinking water

Breakthrough in environmental science as potentially a new source of clean drinking water is developed

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The Independent Online

It's not quite turning water into wine, but scientists in the United States have developed technology that turns cow poo into water.

The McLanahan Nutrient Separation System, which has been developed by Michigan State University, is an anaerobic digester which takes waste and makes energy coupled with an ultrafiltration, air-stripping, reverse osmosis system.

What goes in manure, comes out water clean enough for livestock to drink, or, at the very least, dispose of in an environmentally friendly way.

“If you have 1,000 cows on your operation, they produce about 10 million gallons of manure a year,” said Steve Safferman, an associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering at Michigan State University, who helped develop the project.

“About 90 per cent of the manure is water but it contains large amounts of nutrients, carbon and pathogens that can have an environmental impact if not properly managed.”

The system produces about 50 gallons of water per 100 gallons of manure, but they're hoping to soon increase that to 65 gallons.

There are more than 87 million cows in the US, so if the system works then theoretically they could produce 870 million gallons of clean water every year.

“Here in Michigan we have a tendency to take water for granted,” Steve Safferman, an MSU associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, said in a statement. “But out west, for example, where drought remains an issue, the accessibility of clean water could make the difference between a farm remaining viable or going out of business.”

Perhaps more feasibly, however, is what this invention can do for manure disposal. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that poorly managed manure has consequences – poison drinking supplies, algae growth in water systems, and even air pollution.