SIUC Professor Concocts Hog Waste Reactor

By Gus Bode

Device lowers odor detection

Hog waste really stinks and pollutes groundwater, but one SIUC professor may have developed a solution to a problem that has long plagued farmers and annoyed their neighbors.

Borrowing from an idea that has been around for 30 to 40 years, SIUC Professor James Blackburn designed a reactor that removes the odor and harmful bacteria from hog manure. A $250,000 grant from the Illinois attorney general’s office funded the project.


Blackburn’s machine speeds up the heating rate of manure, which diminishes the offending odors. During this heating process, bacteria help remove the ammonia – the source of the manure’s smelly odor.

The work begins when the hog waste is dumped and sealed in the reactor. Steamy water temperatures of 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit run through coils in the reactor to remove the harmful elements that cause the horrendous odor and pollute groundwater.

The heated water can then be used to serve several functions at the farmers’ discretion, according to Blackburn.

“It can be used to heat nurseries – also some air conditioning units use hot water to function,” he said.

After about six days, the manure is removed and dried. The remaining product is virtually odorless and environmentally safer than in its previous state, Blackburn said.

The reactor being tested is located in the Swan Center and can manage about 1,000 gallons of hog excrement. But to adequately service an average hog farm, the reactor would have to be about 30,000 gallons.

Blackburn said a reactor of that size would be the same height of the current model but larger in diameter.


Blackburn recently participated in a study at the University of Illinois where researchers used his treated hog waste in an odor test. More than 90 percent of the students tested could not smell the manure.

The only obstacle Blackburn has run into so far is farmers’ willingness to participate in the study. No farmers are currently slated to participate in the study, a problem Blackburn said he anticipated.

“We don’t have hog farmers that are considerably close,” he said. “And the price of hogs is low right now, so they’re afraid of anything cutting into their profit margins.”

Until a farmer is willing to give the reactor a try, SIUC Assistant Professor Stuart Walters is testing the manure on cabbage, squash, cucumber and broccoli growing on the college’s farms.

“The plants are really looking good,” Walters said. “There has been no evidence of chlorosis [yellowing of the plant] so far.”

Blackburn said students assisting in the reactor program have been a key to its success. He said it was difficult finding students willing to participate because they were unwilling to work with animal waste.

“When it’s all done what’s coming out is something different than what went in.”

Reporter Brad Brondsema can be reached at [email protected]