Thursday, November 11, 2010

From cow dung to drinking water

Deep in the UAE desert a farm has been working on a secret, udderly unbelievable project.

But now farm chiefs are ready to reveal their clandestine activities - they are making 100 per cent drinkable water from… cow pats. And 7DAYS was more than happy to milk the occasion when asked along to find out more.

It’s now in black and white - water made from cow dung is actually cleaner than the water that comes out of our taps and just as good for us as the bottled water we drink, according to project bosses.

Until now they have kept the malodorous methods of reusing 100 per cent of the water produced from cow waste under wraps.

But they’ve lifted the lid, revealing the water filtration system at Al Ain Dairy Farm produces 300 cubic metres of fresh treated water from cow waste every day, which is pumped back into the farm.

Half of the ‘new’ water is then used for irrigation, and the other half to keep the cows cool.

Experts at the diary say it is safe enough to drink and, if the right minerals were added, could make its way onto supermarket shelves in the UAE one day.

Several times a day, excrement produced by the 2,500 cows on the farm is collected, and solids and liquids are separated.
The solids are either dumped by the municipality, or sold as fertiliser.

The liquid goes through three processes:
pre-filtration, which removes bigger particles from the water; ultra-filtration, which eliminates bacteria and viruses; and reverse osmosis, which desalinates the water and gets rid of dissolved contaminants.

The scorching summers are uncomfortable for the cows, brought to the UAE from Australia and Holland, and experiments carried have shown their productivity drops when temperatures increase.

So the cooling system is used to spray water on the beasts when temperatures hit 27 degrees.

Raid Al Essa, maintenance manager at Al Ain Dairy Farm, said: “The treated water is cooled before spraying, and is kept at 27 degrees.

“We manage to keep the temperature of the air where the cows are between 27 and 30 degrees, and the cooling system is working all the time until the air temperature drops.”

Dow, a company which uses chemistry to solve problems of sustainability, is behind the machinery which pumps out the clean water, and is working with Veolia Water Systems to produce the system.

The benefits of the cooling system are two-fold. Not only does it keep the cows cool and allow them to produce more milk, but it also means the farm does not need to buy in gallons of clean water.

The water goes full circle - it is produced, cleaned and reused constantly.

Similar treated water is already sold in bottles in Singapore, called ‘NEWater’. Minerals, calcium chloride, sodium fluoride, sodium bicarbonate and magnesium sulphate, are added to the water so it is healthy to drink.

But according to specialists, it will be a long time before the UAE adopts this approach.

Dr Ilham Kadri, from Dow Advanced Materials, said: “It’s about social acceptance, and increasing awareness. It’s possible in other places, so why not here?”

For Dr Kadri, the idea can only become a reality through education.

“Sustainability starts at home. Tomorrow, our children will behave in the same way as us. I would love to introduce trips for children to visit the farm,” she said. “It will happen though. I’ve seen change, and it’s only a matter of time.”