Reducing ammonia emissions at the source for a healthier pigsty
We’d already known for some time what we wanted to do: build an innovative sty that was good for the environment, good for the animals and good for people. And we’d already had the permit for the new sty for a few years. So we were allowed to build one, but didn’t want to at that stage. Because what we wanted didn’t seem possible yet.
And it wasn’t a case of modernising for the sake of it – we wanted to genuinely innovate. One of the things we got stuck on was finding a new way of lowering ammonia emissions. The current system, which only cleans the air as it leaves the sty, didn’t meet our requirements. The end-of-pipe solution with the air scrubber doesn’t just use too much energy, it’s also very maintenance-intensive. And the other key thing is that it only cleans the air of ammonia when it leaves the sty. It’s good for the environment outside the sty, but not good for us and our animals. So we knew what we didn’t want, but other existing technologies didn’t appeal to us either.
We then started thinking about our needs. As none of the existing solutions were right for us, we had the challenge of thinking smarter and differently about technologies that could improve on the air scrubber, and that didn’t clean the air when it left the sty, but at the source. And there, at the source, was the solution. And it had less to do with technology than we initially thought.
We took as our starting point the fact that less ammonia is released from manure if it’s confined to a smaller surface area. Because the less contact the manure has with the open air, the lower the emissions. So we had to find a way of reducing the size of that emitting surface. We also know that ammonia is released when the temperature rises. If you keep the temperature below 15 degrees, the enzymatic process is not triggered. So we had to ensure that the pigs could relieve themselves in a smaller area, and that area had to be kept cool.
Fortunately, in contrast to their image, pigs are hygienic animals. If you set up the sty intelligently, you can easily teach the pigs to use one particular area as their toilet. And the animals actually enjoy having a clearly defined, separate area as their toilet. And we elaborated on that idea. We sat down and sketched out a design for our ideal sty. A sty that would be healthier for us, healthier for the pigs and healthier for the environment too.
We submitted our plans in March 2013, and in August this year our sty was granted test status. This means we’re allowed to use the new technologies, and the ammonia standards have been amended. We can now build the sty of our dreams. And we’ll be happy to keep you up to date with how it’s going. I’ll talk more about our new energy-efficient ventilation method in a future blog.