"Environment" research area

Optimizing the Treatment and Use of Manure to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff

Primary Investigator Kechun Zhang
Industry Partners Ascenix
Award Type: Seed Grant - Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Problem: There is no shortage of manure in Minnesota. In fact, the over 18,000 feedlots in Minnesota alone generate an amount of manure equivalent to 50 million people. Much of this manure is repurposed for use as a source of organic nitrogen fertilizer. However, most of the nitrogen in manure comes from protein which plants cannot use directly. After application, this proteinaceous nitrogen may runoff into local water systems, damaging human and ecosystem health. 

Solution: MnDRIVE researchers will engineer bacteria to degrade the amino acids, a key component of proteins, from manure. Degraded amino acids will then act as a source of carbon for the bacteria to use in producing biofuels and other marketable chemicals. Nitrogen will also be separated during the amino acid degradation, and will serve as a source of fertilizer. 

Impact: A novel approach to manure management would result in more useful fertilizer sources without the negative effects of nitrogen runoff. Optimizing the engineered bacteria could lead to a fully functional management system and create economic incentive to reduce the environmental impact of manure application.