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Understanding Livestock Emissions

Team LiDAR in front of the Whale (l to r): Brad Barnhart, Bill Eichinger, Sean Plenner, Bryson Winsky, and David Koser.

Team LiDAR in front of the Whale (l to r): Brad Barnhart, Bill Eichinger, Sean Plenner, Bryson Winsky, and David Koser.

“I’m not really an engineer,” says IIHR Research Engineer Bill Eichinger. “I graduated from West Point and I knew how to spell ‘engineer,’ so they made me one.”

In the army, Eichinger learned the kind of practical engineering that works in a war zone. It’s an attitude he still cultivates today, though he works in an academic environment now. “The army has very much a get-it-done attitude,” he explains. “I can appreciate that.”

Team LiDAR
Eichinger, who is also the William D. Ashton Professor of Civil Engineering leads a diverse team of students who have developed the same kind of pragmatic, get-it-done attitude. Student Sean Plenner, who has worked with Eichinger for two years, says he always keeps one of Bill’s favorite sayings in the back of his head: “Proper prior planning prevents p*** poor performance.”

Students are definitely not second-class citizens on this team. Besides Plenner, students on “Team LiDAR” include Brad Barnhart, David Koser, and Bryson Winsky. In addition to working with Eichinger, each student is conducting his own research, some of it quite advanced. “We have really good students here,” says Eichinger. “I’m always amazed.”

Eichinger’s research uses laser radar, or LiDAR, to measure the emissions near large livestock confinement facilities. Their findings have shattered old ideas, which held that emissions leave the facility and move parallel to the ground. Not so, says Eichinger.

“What we’ve found is that the stuff doesn’t come out horizontally like everybody thought,” he says. “It plumes upward in puffs and then travels in downwind. It actually gets lofted high up into the atmosphere.”

LiDAR tracks the particulates, which act as tracers for the other components such as ammonia. “It’s like watching smoke,” Eichinger explains. “You can see where it’s coming out and where it’s going.”

The team uses LiDAR to record vertical slices in the atmosphere about three seconds apart. With that data, they can make movies of what’s happening, mapping the particulates’ movements in three dimensions.

Many livestock facilities have shelter belts, or bands of trees, surrounding them, which were thought to actually stop the emissions. Eichinger isn’t so sure. “Our suspicion is that it just gets lofted over the trees,” he says. “Immediately downwind of a pig facility, you don’t get as much as you do farther away.”

What’s That Smell?
Although the emissions do smell bad, that’s not the worst of it. They also contain ammonia and other dangerous substances. “Ammonia is not good for people,” Eichinger says. “Near and in chicken facilities, the ammonia concentrations are not good.”

Eichinger makes a point to stay out of the politics swirling around livestock confinement facilities. His goal, he says, is to understand what’s happening and get the community to accept his ideas, which has not been easy.

“The ag community hasn’t really responded,” Eichinger admits. He doesn’t let that deter him. His job, he says, is to figure out how to make these facilities work better. He envisions an improved building design plus strategic shelter belts to enhance lofting, so emissions will dilute faster and higher in the atmosphere, reducing risk for everyone.

Riding the Whale
Team LiDAR travels to livestock farms in a 20-year-old customized RV they affectionately call “The Whale.” Once at the site, they can set up their equipment within half a day. They spend an average of about a week gathering data at each site.

The team also expands to include Jerry Hatfield and John Prueger, colleagues from the National Soil Tilth Laboratory. They construct temporary towers to deploy micrometeorology instruments at several elevations near the livestock facilities. “We value the collaboration with Bill as one of the most rewarding aspects of our professional careers,” Hatfield explains. “Without this interaction, we would not be able to provide some answers to some of the most difficult questions about air quality.” Gil Bohrer, assistant professor for ecological engineering at Ohio State University, contributes computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling expertise to the team.

Physics graduate student Brad Barnhart appreciates working on such a diverse collaborative team. “Our LiDAR team is a close-knit group,” Barnhart says. “We are just like any sports team. ¼ Everyone knows what needs to be done, and we divide up and get it done.”

And Team LiDAR can really get it done. “We all work together,” Plenner says. Barnhart adds, “We don’t have specialized jobs. This is great, because you don’t have to do the same thing on every project, and it allows you to learn about every aspect of LiDAR data collection.”

Eichinger’s informal style is perfect for this group, Barnhart says. “Bill is a great mentor. He lets students choose their projects and allows them the time needed. ¼ We have very few rules. We’re not required to stay late, or even stay for set hours. This ¼ puts the responsibility in our hands. ¼ We do our work because we love to do it, not because we have to.”

Eichinger agrees. “We have a good time,” he says. “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing!”

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Last modified on June 25th, 2015
Posted on December 13th, 2011

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