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Making haste on waste

Tony Wilson's turning poo into an environmentally friendly fertiliser - and money earner - for dairy farmers

What to do with all the poo presents quite a conundrum for dairy farmers. We've all seen the media coverage lamenting the negative impact of the dairy industry on our supposedly pristine lands and waterways, but one Kiwi bloke has taken it upon himself to try and come up with an environmentally-friendly and sustainable solution.

Tony Wilson, the director of Environeer Limited, turned out to be quite the inventor. Wilson was on the hunt for a new side project (by day he owns a civil construction company) and this led him to think about just what it is that makes New Zealand great, and earns our exporters the biggest dollars. His ponderings in turn led him to muse about the dairy industry and the issue of effluent management. "We started with the problem—and I'm quite a creative guy—and I decided, well, how can I solve that problem?"

Wilson started brainstorming ways to harness the potential energy value in effluent and turn it into a resource. He started discussions with the likes of Fonterra and DairyNZ, who were supportive of the ideas. But first things first—containment.

"We came up with a process to capture [the effluent], creating a pond so it doesn't get into the environment," Wilson says.

The ponds are constructed from a "flexible, waterproof, bendable" concrete-like material, which can be built on a farm in a cost-effective manner. "Then we found a pump system where we could suck it all out and transfer it into a situation where we can separate it [the solids from the liquid]."

So what to do with the solids? "It's basically grass—organic—there's actual energy value out of that," Wilson explains. Once the solids compress, it has a moisture content of about 40 to 50 percent, which is too high to actually light it like a fire.

This is where Wilson's creative streak—and a few stories in Idealog about how to take your invention to the next level—come into play. "I invented a rotary dryer…got a patent for it worldwide, and now we've got a system where we can dry the manure down to a dry enough thing so we can actually burn it."

The dry product is then burned in low oxygen, which means the emissions are pretty much clean. All the carbon is contained in the ash and it becomes a very rich fertiliser, "which grows better grass," Wilson says. Reduced waste, good grass growth and a greener energy source—what more could you ask for?

Wilson got Environeer to the point it's at today, with an exhibit at Fieldays, in just a year and a half. "Last year I was wandering around looking and seeing where, what and how. I decided that having a live stand will actually spur [people] into it." He's been talking to farmers, listening to their specific problems and finding engineering solutions. "Most of them said to me this week, we want to take the water off the top of the ponds so we can treat it so we can use it for stock water or cleaning or put it in waterways. So we've developed a process to do that."

With their pump, he says they can suck the water off the top of the ponds and treat it, putting it through some filters, making the water clean enough to go back into the environment. The recycled water can be stored and used during times of drought, or it can go straight back into the environment.

Wilson hopes that through Environeer, he can contribute to making the dairy industry, and New Zealand, just a little bit cleaner and greener. "These guys here, farmers and the industry, need support to make it. We can turn the effluent into a dollar earner, and reduce the carbon emissions as well," he says. "[Farmers have] got carbon they can trade, they can reduce the ETS cost. They can say we're making energy from our waste, so we're not buying it from a coal power station, we're actually making it ourselves. It's self sufficient."