We’re Solving The Sludge Waste Problem. Here’s How

Paul Koenig

By Paul Koenig

7 min read
Farming’s current sludge waste disposal systems are a huge problem. So huge we dedicated an entire article on the topic in, “The 7 Problems With Sludge Waste Disposal.”

If you haven’t read it yet, we highly recommend you do, then come back to finish this article. Here’s a quick recap of the problems we’re currently dealing with when managing toxic sludge waste:
  • Problem #1: Sludge Waste is Costly to Manage
  • Problem #2: Sludge Waste Stinks
  • Problem #3: Sludge Waste Disposal Doesn’t Match Cropping Schedules
  • Problem #4: Sludge Spraying Tractors Cause Soil Compaction
  • Problem #5: Sludge Manure Potency is Inconsistent
  • Problem #6: Sludge Emits Toxic Hydrogen Sulfide Which Workers and Animals Breathe
  • Problem #7: Sludge Waste Has High Carbon Emissions
While working closely with pork producers and watching North Carolina deal with these major problems first hand, we decided to do something about it.

After successfully implementing our proprietary sludge drying technology for Houston’s Municipal Sewage in 2017 and landing an $800M deal with Hangzhou Iron and Steel in China, we knew our technology could effectively address the challenges of animal protein production.  Viroment’s unique system solves these waste sludge disposal challenges by providing innovative Viroment barn facilities on lease to some of the world’s largest protein producers on 15-year guaranteed triple-net contracts.

By displaying how our cutting-edge Viroment barns are solving the sludge waste problem for good, we hope to inspire you to help us meet our 5-year goal of building and leasing more than 350 barns across northeast Nebraska and even more across the country!

Sludge Waste Management is Expensive. Viroment Makes Disposal Affordable and Creates  Pelleted Manure Into a Revenue Stream

By capturing effluent at the source when it is freshly produced and separating reusable water from nutrients available in the waste, Viroment then pelletizes the useful elements into fertilizer without requiring a composting process.

So, by separating and cleaning the water from liquefied manure, Viroment eliminates the cost of the tractor-hauler spraying system and turns the fertilizer into a marketable product that can be sold as crop fertilizer and food for fish in aquaponics. The entire system thus drives sludge management costs down, while opening a completely new revenue stream up.

Our founder, Paul Koenig puts it simply, “Why ship water around if you don’t have to?”

And he’s right. Other industries are seeking ways to ship, store, and shelve anhydrous versions of their products, like pods of laundry detergent, toothpaste pods, and soap dispenser refills all shipping with a “just add water” label to reduce costs and the dependency on plastics as a stable container for their hydrous counterparts.

“We’re doing the same thing for liquid manure. By removing the water from sludge, we’re able to reduce nutrient shipping and handling costs drastically,” beams Paul.

Sludge Waste Stinks. Viroment Makes it Smell-Free

The smell of megafarms is notorious, but even more so for neighbors who live close to a hog farm. North Carolina residents have been quoted saying, “It smells like a decomposing body.” Hog farm stench has even been reported to travel thousands of miles to nearby states after a cold front brought in the stench to the midwest.

Related: The Science of Hog Farm Odors

“Imagine the smell in your house if you only flushed your toilet once a week or once a month. That’s what protein farmers are dealing with right now,” says Paul.

The good news is Viroment’s dehydration process removes much of the putrid smell from hog manure in two ways.

First, rather than allowing hog manure to sit for months before it’s removed from lagoons and pits, Viroment barns’ collection pits are emptied and cleaned every one to two weeks. The more frequent cleaning prevents the waste from breaking-down, decomposing, and gassing off the unmentionable smell.

Second, Viroment dehydrates the liquid manure and pellets it, which greatly reduces the smell overall. Paul explains, “When you dehydrate it, you’re stopping the microbial activity and gassing off that causes the odor. When you fertilize your fields and re-wet it, the smell does return, but only at those few strategic times a year that you’re fertilizing.  Not to mention the broadcasted footprint is much larger and able to be better absorbed immediately into the soil with very little odor being cast off”

Current Sludge Waste Disposal Doesn’t Match Cropping Schedules and Causes Soil Compaction. Viroment Makes Fertilization Predictable and Gentle on the Land

Viroment’s dried manure pellets are made at consistent and predictable concentrations, something that can not be guaranteed by randomized lagoon draws sprayed by a hauler.

In Paul’s words, “You’re pulling the sludge out of a pit or lagoon, and it’s going to be thicker on the bottom because of gravity. There’s no way to “activate” or stir those lagoons properly, so you put it in a tank and land apply it, but there’s no way to guarantee concentration there either”.

“Farmers love to have static inputs for their crops.  Right now, farmers have results specific to the spot their testing, not a real understanding of every square foot of that field because the manure is varying in strength in every load. Our pellets will have a consistent concentration and can be placed according to soil needs.  The pellets can be dialed up or down depending on if you are applying to higher sandy soils or low ground with peat ground like compositions. It’s far more predictable than the current traditional system.”

Viroment’s nutrient pellets can also be crop applied via GPS to accomplish a far more efficient and measurable result for local corn farmers. This approach also doesn’t rely on “good” weather windows for incorporation into crop cycles the way giant tractor-haulers, full of sloshing manure, need access to fields before heavy rains or a frost.

Lastly, our pellet distribution also doesn’t rely on heavy application equipment to distribute, which means that our system doesn’t compress the soil like traditional applications.

Sludge Waste is a Huge Water Polluter and Greenhouse Gas Emitter.  Viroment’s Closed Loop System Promotes Clean Air and Water

According to “The Environmental Impact of Meat Production,” the “industrial production of pigs and poultry is a large source of greenhouse gas emissions and is predicted to become more so.” On intensive pig farms, the animals are generally kept on concrete with slats or grates for the manure to drain through. The manure is usually stored in slurry form (slurry is a liquid mixture of urine and feces). During storage on farms, slurry emits methane and when manure is spread on fields it emits nitrous oxide and causes nitrogen pollution of land and water.”

Related: Why Animal Sludge is a Critical Issue For Our Environment

Paul describes in a little more grotesque detail, “Pig waste is stored in a pit or lagoon. As the pit fills for the first month, there are little to no side effects. However, as the waste sits for longer periods a crust starts to form on top, and in the aerobic environment, the solids begin to break down and gas off. Flies also start to land and lay eggs on the now forming crust solids on the surface, which cause swarms of flies in the barns.”

“Right now traditional pits and lagoons are emptied once to twice a year! You can imagine how revolting and toxic the sludge gas is,” he finishes. 

On the other hand, Viroment barns are emptied and cleaned every 10 days which eliminates toxic greenhouse emissions and flies in the barn. 

In addition to air pollution, manure lagoons are a huge hazard to our water table. Nitrates and coliform bacteria seep into local waterways, tables, and shallow wells which contaminate fresh drinking water that communities rely on for survival.

When your body consumes nitrates it converts it to nitrites, which prevent your red blood cells from carrying oxygen and turn you blue in a condition called methemoglobinemia. Long term exposure may also cause various forms of cancer such as urinary and colon cancer.

Related: Farm Communities Face Contaminated Water From Manure, Nitrates, Records Reveal

Nitrates also cause blue-green algae blooms that make, “Water unsafe to drink and harder to treat.” These algae blooms emit cyanotoxins that are extremely difficult to filter from water.

Viroment’s technology first disinfects the manure then dehydrates through filtration. As a result, Viroment is eliminating manure lagoons’ usefulness for good, protecting our precious water supplies, and also returning clean water into the environment. 

“Pig waste is largely water, and when we can remove the water by filtering and reuse it, then we can create a sustainable closed-loop system that saves water and protects the environment,” says Paul.

Viroment’s Technology Helps Make Pork Production Sustainable!

Each Viroment barn is equipped with over 40 pits underneath the livestock. The entire facility is emptied every ten days, paced out at four tanks per day.
The contents of the flushed tanks are pumped into a centralized deep pit tank in a separate building.

From there, the manure is disinfected through a low voltage charge process called electrocoagulation. The next step is gently removing the solids through dehydration and ultrafiltration process and finally dried nutrient-rich multi-use bio-cake.

The dried nutrient product is packaged to be pelletized off-site to get ready for resale.

The filtered water is reused to recharge the pits and also for crop irrigating.
By removing water from pig waste, and turning both the water and the solids into valuable commodities, Viroment barns are not only making pork production more profitable but also cleaning up the supply chain and protecting the environment in the process.

With Viroment it’s comforting to know that there’s a technology that can make meat production more sustainable. We’re currently working on building our first barns in Nebraska, and if you’re excited about our potential, join our 350 mission!


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