A new technology could make a world of difference to struggling farmers low on water but rich in cow poop, scientists say. A Michigan State University team has created a system that extracts drinkable water—at least fit for livestock to drink—from manure, creating roughly 50 gallons of water from every 100 gallons of manure and reducing the poop's environmental impact. "If you have 1,000 cows on your operations, they produce around 100 million gallons of manure a year," biosystems professor Steve Safferman says. "About 90% of manure is water but it contains large amounts of nutrients, carbon, and pathogens that can have an environmental impact if not properly managed."
The team says the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System, which as its name implies also extracts nutrients from the manure, has been in the making for a decade and will hopefully be ready for commercial application this year; the team is still looking into the financial feasibility of the system for farmers. "Here in Michigan, we have a tendency to take water for granted," Safferman says. "But out west, for example, where drought remains an issue, the accessibility of clean water could make the difference between a farm remaining viable or going out of business." The goal is to increase the conversion to 65 gallons of water per 100 gallons of cow manure. (In other eyebrow-raising water news: One Texas town is turning to toilet water for its drinking needs.)