Cutting manure emissions earns WSU student kudos in poster contest

Thomas Bass, left, chair of the judging panel, and Mark Risse, right, congratulate George Neerackal on his poster win at Waste to Worth. (Courtesy photo)
Thomas Bass, left, chair of the judging panel, and Mark Risse, right, congratulate George Neerackal on his poster win at Waste to Worth. (Courtesy photo)

Dairy cows produce lots of manure. A WSU student’s research on cutting the environmental impact of all that waste won him second place in a poster competition at Seattle’s annual Waste to Worth conference.

George Neerackal, who graduates later this year with a doctorate in Biological Systems Engineering, took second in the Ron Sheffield Memorial Student poster contest, held March 31 to April 3.

His poster, “Mitigating ammonia emissions from dairy barns through manure-pH management,” was among three winners chosen by a national panel of judges.

“In the United States, ammonia pollution from intensive animal production systems is a serious concern,” said Neerackal.

Dairies, in particular, are a major source. Using acid to reduce the pH of manure could be a viable way to cut ammonia pollution. However, acid treatments can be costly and potentially dangerous, explained Neerackal.

Neerackal developed a closed-loop system that uses acid-treated water to flush manure from dairy barns.

His approach cut ammonia emissions by 87 percent, and reduced the amount of acid needed to treat the flush water by 85 percent.

George Neerackal's second-place-winning poster.
George Neerackal’s second-place-winning poster.

“Producers can use more diluted acids, with the added benefit of reduced hazards,” said Neerackal. His next step: trying this approach in a full-scale dairy barn.

“The novelty in George’s approach is making this approach more practical,” said Pius Ndegwa, a BSE associate professor and Neerackal’s advisor. “The implication of this is enormous to the dairy industry.”

Ammonia is a valuable fertilizer, and reducing emissions preserves its economic value while decreasing harm to the environment.

“Ammonia emission is an economic loss to the dairyman and also an environmental concern,” said Joe Harrison, a nutrient management specialist at Washington State University and chair of the Waste to Worth conference.

“George’s research showed that emission could be reduced, saving the farmer money and preventing loss to the atmosphere,” Harrison added.

The Waste to Worth conference focuses on research, outreach, and innovation in animal agriculture and environmental stewardship topics, with a focus on manure management.

The poster contest is named in memory of Ron Sheffield, a Louisiana State University professor who died in 2012. Sheffield was known for his positive attitude and encouragement of young professionals.

Links for learning

• Learn more about Biological Systems Engineering at WSU here.

• Learn more about the Waste to Worth conference here.

• Learn more about manure management at WSU Extension here.