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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Research Project #431207

Research Project: Improvement of Soil Management Practices and Manure Treatment/Handling Systems of the Southern Coastal Plain

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

2019 Annual Report

1. Develop and test improved tillage and biomass management practices to enhance soil health and long-term agricultural productivity in the Southeastern Coastal Plain. 2. Develop manure treatment and handling systems that improve soil health and water quality while minimizing the emissions of greenhouse gases, odors and ammonia and the transport of phosphorus and pathogens. Subobjective 2a. Develop improved treatment systems and methods for ammonia and phosphorus recovery from liquid and solid wastes using gas-permeable membrane technology. Subobjective 2b. Develop improved biological treatment systems for liquid effluents and soils based on deammonification reaction using ARS patented bacterial anammox and high performance nitrifying sludge cultures. Subobjective 2c. Improve the ARS patented “Quick Wash” process for phosphorus recovery. Subobjective 2d. Assess treatment methods for their ability to reduce or eliminate pathogens and cell-free, microbially-derived DNA from agricultural waste streams. Subobjective 2e. Improved manure treatment and handling systems, and management strategies for minimizing emissions. Subobjective 2f. Assess the impact of manure treatment and handling systems on agricultural ecosystem services for soil, water, and air quality conservation and protection. 3. Develop beneficial uses of agricultural, industrial, and municipal byproducts, including manure. Subobjective 3a. Evaluate application of designer biochars to soils to increase crop yields while improving soil health, increasing carbon sequestration, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Subobjective 3b. Develop methods and guidelines to remediate mine soils using designer biochars. Subobjective 3c. Evaluate the agronomic value of byproducts produced from emerging manure and municipal waste treatment technologies.

New management practices and treatment technologies are required to help the nation’s crop and animal producers meet increasing economic and environmental challenges. These challenges include increasing soil productivity and health, as well as reducing unwanted atmospheric emissions, excessive nutrients, pathogens, and odors while concomitantly improving the affordability of animal waste treatment. To solve these challenges this research will pursue three complementary objectives. First, improved tillage and biomass management practices will be developed to enhance soil health and long-term agricultural productivity for Southeastern Coastal Plain soils. Long-term conservation tillage and crop management practices, including stover management and cover crops, will be evaluated to enhance soil productivity and limit the impact of climate change while enhancing nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Second, new manure treatment and handling technologies will be developed to improve soil health and water quality; to minimize emissions of greenhouse gases, odors, ammonia, and pathogens; and to maximize nutrient recovery. These technologies include: recovery of ammonia from manure using gas permeable membranes, enhanced biological nitrogen treatment via deammonification, biochar systems engineered to reduce odor, and new and improved methods of recovering phosphorus from manure. This research project will include covered anaerobic lagoons, thermal treatment, and acidification as technologies to reduce or destroy manure pathogens prior to land application. Third, we will develop beneficial uses for byproducts of manure treatments. This includes the use of biochars and hydrochars byproducts as soil amendments to improve physical and chemical properties, and as a fertilizer source for crop production. Research methods include laboratory, pilot-scale, and field-scale experiments using modern analytical equipment. Research products will advance the state of the science for more effective conservation and management of soil resources, innovative animal waste treatment technologies as environmentally-safe alternatives to traditional land application, and guidelines for beneficial byproduct utilization. Nationwide livestock producers, as well as Southeastern crop producers, will benefit from the findings of this research.

Progress Report
Field experiments are on-going to assess long-term (40 yrs) impacts of tillage (conservation vs. conventional) operations and crop management (row crop vs. cover crop) scenarios on carbon dioxide production, soil organic carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, crop yields, and soil microbial community/enzymatic activity. Results from crop yields and soil chemical characteristics have been synthesized and interpreted for preparation of a scientific manuscript. In conjunction with co-operator from ITACyL, Spain, experiments were conducted to investigate the recovery of ammonia from raw swine manure using gas permeable membranes in an on-farm pilot plant. The experiments looked at the effect of wastewater temperatures on the efficiency of the N recovery process. In cooperation with a small company based in Hampton, Virginia, investigated activity of ARS-developed anammox bacteria Brocadia caroliniensis in various scaffold media used to treat space wastewater in a two-step process in a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project. The first step used the Comandr module of Texas Tech University. The second step used USDA’s anammox process. The combined process exceeded Phase I project expectations. A NASA SBIR Phase II project was approved to develop a working prototype for space exploration. In cooperation with a small company in Hampton, Virginia, investigated activity of ARS-developed high performance nitrifiers (HPNS) for use in odor capping and ammonia control of swine lagoons in a USDA SBIR Phase I project. The project used pilot tests with a top aerobic layer along floating modules containing HPNS that effectively reduced odor and ammonia emissions from swine lagoon wastewater. A full-scale system is being planned for testing in Fall 2019. Completed batch treatment laboratory experiments on self-acidification of manure using selected rates of molasses and starch. Validated procedures for elimination of pathogens and ARGs from animal carcasses using HTC and pyrolysis treatment methods. Completed the bench-scale biochar sorption experiments for odorous chemicals from swine manures. Constructed a pilot-scale biochar odor removal system. Completed the second year of field measurements of ammonia and methane emission rates from a farm with covered swine lagoons. Initiated calibration and validation databases for USDA’s Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) and Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM) models using already existing Center’s soil, water, plant production, and manure databases. Results from a 3-year field-scale corn production experiment using biochars and compost blends as soil amendments were published in a scientific journal. There was no impact of these soil amendments on corn grain yields and biomass production. Further investigations are assessing biochars impact on soil profile carbon sequestration and carbon mineralization by collecting and measuring field carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, results from soil amendments impact on corn nitrogen uptake efficiency, corn physiology, and soil microbial enzyme production are being synthesized and interpreted. In cooperation with the USEPA, an amendment blend consisting of a gasified hardwood biochar, lime and biosolids was developed for spoil remediation at the Formosa mine site in Riddle, Oregon. Douglas Fir trees and native grasses were planted in grid patterns and small test plots following application of these amendments. Fir tree and grass growth along with spoil chemical characteristics are examined semi-annually to ascertain the amendments ability to neutralize the acidic mine spoil and promote improved tree and grass growth. The impact of biochars and compost blends on switchgrass and corn growth in a heavy metal contaminated Tri-State mine site was published in a scientific journal. Improved switchgrass and corn growth occurred in mine spoil that was treated with manure-based biochar and compost blends. Results from greenhouse experiments are being synthesized to determine the impact of locally-derived microbial inoculants and amendments made with compost/biosolids to increase soil health characteristics in the mine spoils. The impact of biochars and manure-based compost on phytostabilization of zinc and cadmium using corn in Tri-State mine soils was published in a scientific journal. Results suggest that incorporation of biochar enhanced phytostabilization of zinc and cadmium while improving biomass productivity of corn. Overall, the phytostabilization technique and biochar additions have the potential to be combined in the remediation of heavy metals polluted soils. Greenhouse studies are being conducted to evaluate plant response to selected raw wastes and treated byproducts (swine manure, poultry litter, dairy manure and bio-solids) applied at four nitrogen rates (0, 50, 100, and 200 kg/ha). Conducted research to separate phosphorus and amino acids from manure in a cooperative research and development agreement with a chemical company. Experiments evaluated the use of peach waste as acid precursors to substitute the use of acids in the process and lower process costs. A U.S. patent application was filed.

1. Recovery of phosphorus and amino acids from biological materials. ARS researchers in Florence, South Carolina, have developed a new biorefinery process that recovers value-added chemicals and materials from manure and algae: phosphorus, proteins and amino acids, and a leftover solids biomass. A U.S. patent was granted in 2018 and two other U.S. patent applications were filed in 2019. The recovery of phosphorus and proteins from manure could be advantageous to offset treatment and storage costs, and to lessen the environmental impacts of land application. Phosphorous in manure can contaminate rivers, lakes, and bays through runoff, if applied onto a cropland excessively. Thus, recovering phosphorous from manure not only help reduce such contamination, but also reduces the use of commercial fertilizer based on phosphate rock. Protein is a natural resource used in a wide range of commercial applications. An additional breakthrough came when sugars were used in the process acting as natural acid precursors that lowered costs. Sugar sources successfully tested included sucrose, sugar beet molasses, and peach waste. The manure solids are fermented for just one day after addition of a sugar containing material and an inoculum; this rapid fermentation produced abundant acids that extracted nearly all the phosphorus and an acidic precipitate containing nearly all the proteins. On a dry-weight basis, manure solids contained high amounts of proteins (15.2%-17.4%) and phosphorus (3.0%) available for extraction. Quantitative extraction of phosphorus and proteins from manures was possible with the new process. Furthermore, the process was effective to extract phosphorus and proteins from other biological materials, such as algae or soybean meal. The recovered proteins could be used for production of amino acids and the recovered phosphorus could be used as a recycled material that replaces commercial phosphate fertilizers. This could be a potential new revenue stream from wastes.

2. Novel anammox bacterium isolate for purification and recycling wastewater in space and decentralized wastewater systems. One of America’s most widespread and costly environmental problems is nutrient pollution in its streams and waterways caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment. Using existing technologies to remove nitrogen from wastewater in treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay alone costs an estimated $8.2 billion. These environmental problems can be mitigated with a biological process that uses anammox bacteria to remove nitrogen from wastewater at one-third the cost of existing technologies. ARS researchers in Florence, South Carolina, were successful in developing an active anammox culture isolated from manure sludges, Brocadia caroliniensis, that thrives in high-ammonia environments and is capable of reactivation after being held in dormant conditions. The process is very stable and robust, and simple to use. This made the ARS anammox particularly attractive for use in wastewater treatment systems to help recycle the water used by astronauts in outer space, particularly those staying in the International Space Station. Water in outer space is a scarce commodity, costing $83,000 per gallon to transport it there. Recycling water in space is critical to minimizing operating costs and optimizing operations since water represents approximately 92% of total life-support consumables for the Space Station. ARS has teamed up with a commercial partner, a small company based in Hampton, Virginia, to expand the use of the new technology to space exploration. The ARS discovered anammox was highly effective in NASA SBIR projects for: 1) deammonification of high-ammonia early planetary space wastewater, and 2) its rapid re-activation after long-periods of quiescent operations. The treatment systems using these organisms attained up to 95% removal of nitrogen from wastewater. The new technology could also be used in household septic tanks in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where 52,000 septic systems need to be upgraded to be able to remove nitrogen.

3. Vegetative environmental buffers for enhanced dispersion and removal of ammonia emitted from poultry houses. Vegetative environmental buffers, composed of tolerant trees, shrubs or tall grasses, are frequently installed near the exhaust fans of poultry houses to control and reduce the off-site transport of potential pollutants, such as ammonia. The vegetative environmental buffers also enhance the aesthetics of these animal feeding operations facilities and the overall landscape, and provide a tangible demonstration of producer environmental stewardship. However, the effectiveness of vegetative environmental buffers in controlling the poultry house ammonia emissions has not been adequately quantitated. ARS researchers in Florence, South Carolina, and Beltsville, Maryland, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland and University of Alberta, Canada, conducted a series of experiments using state-of-art laser systems and micrometeorological techniques to quantify the effect of dispersion and removal of ammonia from a poultry house which was surrounded by a vegetative environmental buffer consisting of a combination of arborvitae, Leyland cypress, and willow. The vegetative environmental buffers not only removed 22% of ammonia, but it also effectively dispersed ammonia, resulting in a net 51% decrease in downwind concentration. These results clearly demonstrated that vegetative environmental buffers are effective both in dispersing and removing ammonia emitted from the poultry houses. The USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service is using the results from this study to refine and bolster the standards defining the mitigation potential and limitations of the vegetative environmental buffers.

Review Publications
Novak, J.M., Moore, E., Spokas, K.A., Hall, K., Williams, A. 2018. Future biochar research directions. In: Ok, Y.S., Tsang, D.C., Bolan, N., Novak, J.M., editors. Biochar from Biomass and Waste. 1st edition, New York, NY: Academic Press. p. 423-432.
Novak, J.M., Johnson, M.G. 2018. Elemental and spectroscopic characterization of low temperature (350 degrees celsius) lignocellulosic- and manure-based designer biochars and their use as soil amendments. In: Ok, Y.S., Tsang, D.C., Bolan, N., Novak, J.M., editors. Biochar from Biomass and Waste. 1st edition. New York, NY: Academic Press. p. 37-58.
Ippolito, J.A., Cui, L., Novak, J.M., Johnson, M.G. 2018. Biochar for mine land reclamation. In: Ok, Y.S., Tsang, D.C., Bolan, N., Novak, J.M., editors. Biochar from Biomass and Waste. 1st edition. New York, NY: Academic Press. p. 75-90.
Riano, B., Mollinuevo-Salces, B., Vanotti, M.B., Garcia-Gonzalez, M.C. 2019. Application of gas-permeable membranes for semi-continuous ammonia recovery from swine manure. Environments. 6(3):32.
Dai, F., De Pra, M.C., Vanotti, M.B., Gilmore, K.R., Cumbie, W.E. 2018. Microbial characteristics and attached growth of nitrifiers, denitrifiers and anammox bacteria on different support media to treat space mission wastewater. Environmental Management. 232:943-951.
Ro, K.S., Libra, J.A., Bae, S., Berge, N., Flora, J.V., Pecenka, R. 2018. Combustion behavior of animal-manure based hydrochar and pyrochar. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. 7:470-478.
Borchard, N., Schirrmann, M., Cayuela, M.L., Kammann, C., Wrange-Monnig, N., Estavillo, J., Fuertes-Mendizabal, T., Sigua, G.C., Spokas, K.A., Ippolito, J., Novak, J.M. 2018. Biochar, soil and land-use interactions that reduce nitrate leaching and N2O emissions: A meta-analysis. Science of the Total Environment. 651:2354-2364.
Novak, J.M., Ippolito, J.A., Watts, D.W., Sigua, G.C., Ducey, T.F., Johnson, M. 2019. Biochar compost blends facilitate switchgrass growth in mine soils by reducing Cd and Zn bioavailability. Biochar Journal. 1:97-114.
Sigua, G.C., Novak, J.M., Watts, D.W., Ippolito, J.A., Ducey, T.F., Johnson, M.G., Spokas, K.A. 2019. Phytostabilization of Zn and Cd in mine soil using corn in combination with biochars and manure-based compost. Environments. 6(6):69.
Sigua, G.C. 2018. Effects of crop rotations and intercropping on soil health. In: Reicosky, D., editor. Managing Soil Health for Sustainable Agriculture. Volume 2. Cambridge, UK: Burleigh Dobbs Science Publishing Limited. p. 1-27.
Novak, J.M., Sigua, G.C., Ducey, T.F., Watts, D.W., Stone, K.C. 2019. Designer biochars impact on corn grain yields, biomass production, and fertility properties of a highly-weathered ultisol. Environments. 6(6):64.
Bauer, P.J., Szogi, A.A., Shumaker, P.D. 2019. Fertilizer efficacy of poultry litter ash blended with lime or gypsum as fillers. Environments MDPI. 6(5):50.
Sanchez-Hernandez, J.C., Ro, K.S., Diaz, F.J. 2019. Biochar and earthworms working in tandem: research opportunities for soil bioremediation. Science of the Total Environment. 688:574-583.