Barley straw covers wastewater odors

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1997  | October 1997 issue

Since early summer, American Crystal Sugar Co.(ACS) and the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) have cooperated on a project to control odors from wastewater ponds at ACS's beet processing plant in East Grand Forks, Minn.

Two applications of barley straw were shot from a Canadian-made "straw cannon" onto two ponds in June and July. The cannon shoots the straw as far as 150 feet, and the wind finishes the job of matting the straw together across the pond's surface. Once in place, the straw acts as a biofilter, says Dan Stepan, EERC research manager, with microbes capturing the odor-causing organic compounds and converting them to odorless carbon dioxide and water.

June's cover is still intact, says Stepan, who is impressed with the durability of the cover, even after a rainfall of more than 7 inches. ACS is also impressed with the process and plans to use it at four of the company's five Red River factories and buy its own straw cannon, Stepan says.

ACS learned about the process, originally used by a Canadian research firm to control odors from hog manure lagoons, through the Red River Water Management Consortium (RRWMC), which the EERC founded and coordinates.

Since word has gotten out about the ACS project, the EERC has received inquiries about the process from businesses in Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana and other states, most of them large poultry or hog operations, Stepan says.

"This won't solve everybody's problems, but for certain applications, it's very effective at odor control and it's cost effective," Stepan says. In addition, barley is a rotational crop for beet farmers, making it profitable for farmers in the nonbeet-growing years and easy for ACS to obtain.

"The beauty of this is that it's all natural," Stepan says. "It's a modified Mother Nature taking action."

Kathy Cobb