County Breaks Ground on Nutrient Concentration System

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By: 
Michelle Phillips

DANE COUNTY–Cleaning up waste from dairy farms and removing phosphorous just got easier for Dane County farmers with the planned construction of a Nutrient Concentration System (NCS) at the Springfield Community Digester on Schneider Rd., north of Middleton.

On Oct. 30 Dane County and AQUA Innovations broke ground on the $1.6 million facility that takes low-solids manure and turns it into liquid fertilizer and clean water through an ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis and aeration.

Before the ribbon cutting Chris Lenzendorf, President of AQUA Innovations and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi spoke to a small group at the future site of the NCS. Lenzendorf said of getting the project off the ground,” County Executive Parisi is the only one to do something like this. It has been a long and arduous, and required leadership and diplomacy.”

He also thanked the farmers who plan to use the systems and called them good stewards of the land. He also thanked Northern Biogas for managing the site and all those involved in moving the project forward. 

“Over the last three years, someone could have walked away, but they never did,” he reflected. 

“This is what partnership looks like,” Parisi told the gathering of journalists, executives and county officials. 

Parisi called the NCS the final step in protecting the environment. “This is what is going to help us maintain our legacy of life in Dane County,” he said.

He said the plans looks easy on paper but took years to come to fruition. “Very soon people will be asking, ‘Why aren’t we all doing this?’” Parisi said. 

He also thanked the farmers that agreed to use the system at their dairies, “They are doing it because it is the right thing to do to protect agriculture and the environment,” he praised.

Art Meinholz of Blue Star Dairy said the environmental piece was appealing as was a final liquid fertilizer that is easy to spread, weighs less and can be hauled more easily. 

“We try to be good stewards of the land on the farms,” he said. “This system allows for managing the nutrient in a whole new way.”

Will Hensen of Hensen Brothers Dairy, agrees and explained the process for the farmer, “We will bring the manure out and the process will take out the solids, remove phosphorous and turn it into liquid fertilizer that we can apply to the fields.”

“Some of the soil is really low in nutrients, but too far away from livestock, so you can now manage it better,” said Meinholz.

“We’ve been using the digester for about five years. This takes it through an additional step to remove additional phosphorus,” added Hensen. 

Meinholz said Blue Star has 600 cows that they milk daily, and Hensen said they milk 500, which amounts to a lot of manure. The farms pay to have the manure converted, but the cost of storage, spreading and hauling the manure is reduced.

“We’re just hoping to break even,” Hensen said.

The process uses both digested and raw manure and starts by removing the solids from the waste through an ultrafiltration system, reducing it to one third the volume of low TSS (Total Suspended Solids) manure. 

The second phase of the process uses reverse osmosis, creating nitrogen and potassium rich effluent and clean, dischargable water. Nutrients are then stored in segregated lagoons. The final step is aeration before the water is released into the environment.

Lenzendorf said the nutrients have no pathogens removing the odor from the effluent. “One thing that’s unique to our system is that it’s convenient for the DNR. If the DNR wants us to add minerals in, we can do that as well,” he explained. 

He said he hopes that Dane County, the first in Wisconsin to use the system, will be an example for others in the state. “It will truly change the way agriculture handles manure,” he added. “I think this will be kind of a template for counties high in dairy.”

Lenzendorf said the system should be built by the end of the year, then spend six weeks going through a calibration system. “By early spring, it should be fully operational,” he concluded.

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