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Europe, US make the most of manure

The humble pile of dung. An amazing thing, and so versatile, too. Not just the staple material of the more humble gardener, used for most probably tens of thousands of years to fertilize soil to grow vegetable produce and crops with, it’s also seeing something of a renaissance recently.

Now, those who’re able to dip right back into their English history will remember the term Wattle & Daub, whose principle material often as not was animal dung.

For the uninitiated, Wattle & Daub was (an maybe even still is in so far as restoration projects might allow) a building material used most recently in Tudor times:

“Wattle and daub are building materials used in constructing houses. A woven latticework of wooden stakes called wattles is daubed with a mixture of clay and sand and sometimes animal dung and straw to create a structure.”

Some might argue you just couldn’t make this shit up. But you’d be wrong! You can make this shit up into lots of things, including walls for houses.

Anyway, with the history lesson out of the way, let’s get back to the here & now:

“Researchers at Michigan State University think they have come up with a new way of disposing of some of the millions of tons of cow manure produced in the US each year: use it to build with.

More specifically, they are advocating using sterilised cow manure to replace sawdust in making fibreboard.”

Indeed, what with ever-increasing pressures on farmers to diversify, this is an ideal opportunity to make that old Yorkshire adage work: “where there’s muck, there’s brass” which means where there’s dirt, there’s money to be had:

“Farmers in the US are under pressure to find new ways of dealing with their cow pats. It can cost $200 per year to process the production of a single cow, so some farmers are facing a very big bill every year.”

But those craaazzy Americans are only the shadow of history repeating itself, as I pointed out earlier. This is people getting back to basics and making use of the kind of stuff that might otherwise sit in settling tanks and cost a small fortune to taken away and be processed.

Power dung: feel the burn!

And it’s not just the Americans looking to make the most from manure, either. Those very efficient Germans are on the job, too:

“The pioneering £7m plant at Holsworthy in Devon will process 146,000 tonnes of slurry from 30 local farms every year.

Methane gas from the fermented slurry will power the plant, Holsworthy Biogas, to produce electricity for the national grid.

The German company behind the plant, Farmatic UK, is hoping it could be the first of a network of “green” energy plants in the UK.

Managing director of Farmatic and the man behind the new plant, Jorgen Fink, from Denmark, said that it would take up to two months for the operation to reach full capacity.”

It’s an intriguing idea, one that makes excellent use of waste materials that are essentially pollutants if not put to the land, and not all manure can be used. There’s always waste.

So between either using dung to build our homes from or heating our homes, we could be looking at a totally shit future for everyone…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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