Student finds way to put manure to use

The University of Calgary business student starts a company that uses manure as a concentrated fertilizer and energy source

Growing up on a ranch in the British Columbia interior, Victoria Ross understood that manure disposal is an ongoing challenge.

Now a business student at the University of Calgary, she has created Agro Systems, a company using manure as a concentrated fertilizer and energy source.

Ross has been working on the project for more than a year seeking investors and technical help to figure out the best technology to do the job.

She is working with professors at the university and a volunteer advisory board that challenges her with questions and possible scenarios.

“We are constantly talking to farmers to see if this is something they actually want,” she said.

The technology involves feeding manure to duckweed in an aquaponics system. Biogas in the form of methane is produced and a concentrated fertilizer comes out the other end.

She calculates that 9,600 pounds of manure a week are needed for this project to generate about 30 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The digestive system is already used in the United States to convert food waste into power and fertilizer.

“What we wanted to do in Canada was use it for agriculture purposes converting manure into power,” she said.

Ross is also working with the agriculture sustainability company Viresco Solutions to figure out a protocol so farmers using the system can earn carbon credits.

The project is moving toward a prototype, and Viresco president Karen Haugen-Kozyra said Ross needs to determine how much biogas could be produced, how to balance the nutrients in the fertilizer and if the system is economically feasible.

“She has really put a lot of thought into these pinch points that maybe will take it a little bit further and solve some of those issues,” Haugen-Kozyra said.

The concept needs to be demonstrated in a pilot project, and Ross has been talking about doing that with a major integrated farm company.

“From there we will have an idea about the scale of her operation and where it will really fit best with,” said Liz Brennan, who sits on Ross’s advisory committee.

“At any scale considering nutrient management, holistically it is really valuable.”

Alberta has had a number of similar projects, and not all have succeeded.

“There is a sad story of digesters in this province,” said Haugen-Kozyra.

The renewable energy industry is waiting for the province to announce a continuation of the bio-energy producer program, which provided subsidies for the amount of energy produced.

The former Alberta BioEnergy program, which was introduced more than 10 years ago, offered $239 million to support these projects, but it was eventually axed because of budget cuts.

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