Hogs are big business in Missouri, home to 280 “concentrated animal-feeding operations,” and the country’s seventh-biggest pork producer last year. But the honor is a dubious one to a farm’s downwind neighbors, not to mention to environmental advocates who worry about the untreated manure in vast waste lagoons.
Enter the executives at Innoventor, a design-build firm based in St. Louis, who, with the help of almost $1 million from the Environmental Protection Agency, have created a contraption that recycles pig waste for road-paving and roofing products. The technology, which Innoventor believes has billion-dollar potential, eliminates the need for manure lagoons and could reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Innoventor’s machinery acts like a pressure cooker: at a certain temperature and pressure, it converts solid excrement into bio-oil while reserving the wastewater. According to Rick Lux, an Innoventor engineer, the process retains the nutrients in the wastewater and results in a liquid fertilizer suitable for spraying.
Last spring, I drove with Lux to Rehmeier Farms in St. Charles County, Missouri, a landscape dotted with hobby farms with white picket fences and carpets of corn, to check out Innoventor’s Swine-Manure-to-Energy Unit in action. There was no hint of pig in the air until we were within 25 yards of a barn. “That’s one problem I don’t have,” Rick Rehmeier told me, before describing the red that’s been bleeding across his ledgers. The last several years haven’t been good for a commodity hog farmer.