May 2, 2016
Currently, organic waste management in agriculture presents huge economic and environmental problems. These problems include regulatory risk, the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus, water and air pollution, and the lack of investment in anaerobic digestion. However, ASU researchers led by Bruce Rittmann are developing innovative systems to convert organic wastes into high-value products. These products can lead to improving employment and economic development in rural areas, and turn a liability into profit.
Rittmann and his team are developing smart, interconnected systems that synergistically produce renewable and high-value energy, fertilizers and soil amendments from organic wastes. They aim to increase profits for farmers by converting and recycling organic wastes into an assortment of value-added products.
A preliminary techno-economic analysis based on a dairy farm setting indicates that waste management can be transformed into a significant profit center. The project’s outputs will include integrated technologies, financial metrics, and agricultural partnerships.
The key objectives of smart, interconnected waste agriculture systems are to employ pre-treatment to convert more organic waste into methane, demonstrate the feasibility of microbial electrochemical cells to generate energy outputs with greater economic value than methane, develop a set of novel sorbents that captures high-value nutrients from processed waste effluents for fertilizer applications, transform the residual solids from processed waste into a high-value so it is easily-transported soil amendment, conduct techno-economic analysis on technology development and adoption in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, and engage the agricultural community throughout the process to determine how best to deploy the new technologies.
Rittmann is director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University. A world-renowned leader in the field, Rittmann approaches environmental biotechnology from the perspective of “managing microbial communities that provide services to society.” This is achieved through cross-disciplinary and team-based research in the areas of engineering, science, sustainability and biological design.