IMUS Research Team

2005 Winner: Applied Technology and Innovation

Innovative technology developed in Alberta is transforming manure into a valuable new revenue stream for farmers. The technology, known as IMUS, or the Integrated Manure Utilization System, treats manure as a renewable resource by turning animal waste into green power, organic fertilizers and reusable water while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

From Waste to Products

The IMUS technology was developed jointly by the Alberta Research Council and Highland Feeders Limited, one of Canada’s largest feedlot operations, and their partners. The technology uses a process called anaerobic digestion to produce biogas – primarily methane – which is then used to generate electricity. Recovered nutrients are used as a bio-based fertilizer, while water recovered from the process can be recycled within the IMUS system or re-used for irrigation.

A pilot-scale IMUS plant at Highland Feeders produces slightly less than one megawatt of electricity from the manure of 7,500 cattle. The operation uses 150 kilowatts; the rest is available for sale to the feedlot and the power grid. A typical commercial operation of 20,000 head of cattle generating 24,000 tonnes of dry manure annually will produce up to three megawatts of electricity – enough to power a town of more than 5,000 people.

IMUS’s closed-loop biogas system was designed specifically to overcome problems associated with high-solid manure typical of outdoor feedlots. Traditional agricultural waste management practice is to spread manure on adjacent land. But concerns about odour and possible contamination of water systems from runoff are leading to increasingly stringent regulations. IMUS reduces these environmental concerns and could also contribute to Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. By turning agricultural wastes into valuable products, IMUS has the potential to diversify Canada’s agriculture industry.

Practical Benefits

The technology allows feedlot operators not only to reduce their manure handling costs but also to add value to their existing operations by producing a marketable bio-fertilizer product. While biogas technologies already exist to handle liquid waste, IMUS is the only biogas plant of its kind in the world that handles both solid and liquid manure. In developing the technology, the IMUS team took a multidisciplinary approach incorporating soil science, microbiology, agronomy, chemical process and mechanical engineering. The technology can be easily adapted to other organic wastes, such as food-processing wastes, rendering materials and municipal wastes. The IMUS technology is licensed exclusively to Highmark Renewables, a new Alberta-owned company.