OLYMPIA — An engineer told Washington lawmakers Tuesday that public funding would spur technology to distill cow manure into dry fertilizer and clean water, making polluted runoff from dairies a problem of the past.
“Wow,” said one legislator. “Yeah, wow,” said another.
The Washington State Dairy Federation arranged back-to-back presentations to the House and Senate agriculture committees by Peter Janicki, CEO of Janicki Bioenergy in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.
Janicki has worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to convert sewage into drinking water in developing countries. A YouTube video viewed 3.2 million times shows Janicki in 2015 in Africa serving Bill Gates water that five minutes earlier had been human waste.
Janicki said that he could use the experience and knowledge that he’s gained to create new technology for distilling cow manure.
“Boiling something to separate out its constituents is not new science,” he said. “We just figured out how to make it work from the beginning to the end in this application.
“It makes the dairy farm a zero-discharge dairy,” he said. “You take the water coming out of the back end of the cow and feed it back into the front end of the cow. So there is nothing that ever leaves the barn.
“There won’t be any (manure) lagoons with this technology,” Janicki said. “There may be lagoons, but they’re going to have clean water in them. They’re going to be like, I don’t know, swimming pools.”
The Washington dairy industry has been searching for improved ways to use manure, a target of new regulations and the basis for lawsuits.
The dairy federation’s policy director, Jay Gordon, said that Janicki caught the industry’s attention just last fall.
“It has the potential to be a pretty big sea change,” Gordon said.
Janicki said industrial customers will be the most-lucrative market for his technology, while dairies will have to wait “without some kind of help in some form or another from a government organization.
“I am very passionate about getting this on dairy farms. I think it’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Financially, it’s something that would happen naturally in 10 to 15 years, but not until we saturate the industrial market.”
Janicki estimated that with $2 million he could build and install equipment to showcase purifying the manure from a 1,000-cow dairy. He predicted the cost would quickly drop to as low as $500,000 as the technology developed.
Gordon said dairies and banks are reluctant to invest in something that’s never been done before.
“If they knew it would work, I think those boys would line up,” he said. “We need to have technology that’s proven.”
Two years ago, Senate capital budget chairman Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, set aside $5 million for low-interest loans to dairies willing to try new ways to handle manure. There have been no takers.
Honeyford said that he was interested in funding Janicki’s technology, though he said he did not want to run afoul of the state Constitution’s ban on gifting public funds to a private business. He said he would be concerned about what would happen eventually to the state-funded equipment.
“If everything pans out, it’s going to be a valuable product. How do you dispose of it? That’s my concern,” Honeyford said. “If it works like he says it does, it’s a whole game changer for the dairies.”