Green Technology Improves Air Quality
You wouldn’t know it by the smell, but there are 2,000 hogs living about 10 feet away from where we’re standing, in rural Johnson County, Iowa. Swine production has a reputation for producing one of the most unpleasant odors in the farm business. But with installation of a biofiltration device manufactured by Odor Cell Technologies (OCT), many hog and poultry farmers are becoming better stewards of the environment — and better neighbors.
The man primarily responsible for the biofiltration system that’s improving the air quality at this farm and others like it is Roger Treloar. Roger grew up on a family farm in Iowa, but the lure of a career trading Japanese treasury bills took him to Singapore for five years. Living abroad and traveling the Pacific Rim provided wonderful experiences for him and his family, but Roger longed for an acreage, a garden to come home to.
We interviewed Roger Treloar and his son, Chad, after visiting a hog confinement to see (and smell) how well OCT’s device is working. Our conclusion? The improvement in air quality is amazing. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What sparked the idea behind the development of OCT’s biofiltration system?
TRELOAR: I came back from living overseas in 1995 and bought some farmland, then put up the first [hog confinement] building in 1997. When we expanded in 2002, the biggest concern from our neighbors was what we were going to do about air quality.
I grew up on the family farm with cattle on an open lot. We also had 3,000 hogs that we put in barns and any place that had a roof on it. Every farmer up and down the road had animals, and no one complained about the smell then. Now, it’s become a very hot issue with a lot of people.
BPGL: Your invention solves a lot of that problem for farmers. Describe it for us.
TRELOAR: The odor cell is a stainless steel box, about four feet high, that we place at the point where the air blows out of the hog confinement. The box has four sections, right and left sides, front and the top. Each section is a wire mesh box filled with chips of bark. As the air flows into the back of the cube, it is forced through the walls of wood chips. The thickness of these walls is 5 inches — or 10 inches for more aggressive treatment.
BPGL: What is the purpose of the bark?
TRELOAR: When the odor-laden air flows through the spaces in the bark, the bark acts like a sponge to soak up the particulates. There’s a natural bacteria living in the bark. When you add the particulate matter (dust, feed, skin, fecal matter, and whatever else blows out of the fans), the resulting mass is organic, and the bacteria feed on it.
The odor is comprised of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and particulates. We’re addressing the odor and particulates at point source and reducing their transfer distance. We’ve had test results showing 70% reduction in emission levels.
BPGL: Will just any bark do, or is it special in some way?
TRELOAR: It’s a particular kind of pine bark containing a natural terpine oil that acts as a preservative to give it a long lifespan. My brother, Bob, is a biologist. He’s worked a lot with the Environmental Protection Agency and Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) teams. He came up with the material that we put in the filter.
BPGL: How does the process work?
TRELOAR: It works a lot like a compost pile. There, you have an earth-friendly, natural process, where bacteria break down organic matter. We wanted to use that same principle, but to have a durable media that will last a longer time. So, Bob identified a particular type of pine bark, which breaks down very slowly. Some of this media has been working for five or six years. As the bacteria break down the particulate and the bark, we end up with extremely fertile dirt at the bottom of the box.
Under a microscope, you can see that these bacteria live in clusters, or communities. When you add animal dust, grain dust, the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and a little water, the bacteria will grow exponentially.
BPGL: Is there any maintenance required?
TRELOAR: A bit. The farmer needs to add water from time to time to keep the bark wet and the bacteria healthy. We have a sprayer system that’s easy to set up when the farmer determines it’s time to get the bark wet.
And as the bark breaks down, every few months, we add some more wood chips to fill the container back up again. By keeping the old bark in with the new, we maintain the colony of bacteria so the process continues pretty much at the same pace. When the compost at the bottom builds up enough, we scoop it out and spread it on a garden.
Normally, the terpines in pine bark would kill even the good bacteria, but with this bark, that doesn’t happen. One of the unique features of our patented process are how we create a micro-ecosystem for the hungry little bacteria to flourish.
BPGL: There are about 43 million hogs raised in the U.S., and 27 million of them are in Iowa. Why are there so many hogs in Iowa?
TRELOAR: It all interrelates. Pigs eat corn. For a while, there was an attempt to get a lot of swine production started in areas outside the Corn Belt. But, economically, it’s better to bring the corn to the pigs, not the pigs to the corn. The best fertilizer for corn is hog manure. If the pork prices are down, like they are right now, the hog manure is more valuable than the hogs. We have some of the best soil in the world here in Iowa. It’s a huge advantage. We raise quality corn and quality hogs. It all works together. It makes sense to do it here.
BPGL: I’m amazed by this bark. Will it work on other industrial smells?
TRELOAR: We have filters at a facility that makes pet food flavorings, and there are odors involved in that. They use lot of by-products from animal food processing. It’s good flavoring for dog and cat food, but there are air quality issues involved with that process. We’re helping the pet food industry deal with that.
Our filters have made a lot of townspeople very happy. In fact, one mother, who had just had a baby, wrote me a letter after we installed the filters. She said, “Thank you for giving a better life to my daughter.” The filters make a huge difference in air quality.
BPGL: What does one of your filters cost?
TRELOAR: For the standard size, it’s around $1,500. Some farmers don’t want to set up their own Odor Cells, so set up and maintenance contracts are available. I think it’s a fair price for the technology. We’re producers ourselves. We had to ask ourselves, what would we pay? Our company goal was to make a product that was efficient, cost effective, and user friendly.
BPGL: What is the return on investment, the ROI, for your product?
TRELOAR: The Odor Cell doesn’t make the farmer any money.
BPGL: So why would a farmer choose to spend the money to install it?
TRELOAR: The reason farmers — and industries like pet food companies that release organic odors — are putting these in is because they want to improve air quality. Farmers buy these because they want to be good stewards of air quality, just as they are good stewards of the land.
Fifty years ago, most farms were a few miles from the nearest city or town. Now the town has grown out to the farms, and just across the fence is a housing project. Those are the farmers who have a greater incentive to improve air quality and avoid legal issues.
By eliminating the particulates that cause the unpleasant smell, the Odor Cell improves the air quality for everyone. That’s the right thing to do. And that’s the real ROI for this product.
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