The project was focused on building a hydraulic press powerful enough to make a fuel brick out of livestock manure on a small farm. These bricks have been made in the past by hand and do not have the BTU’s required to burn at a rate that can produce a brick acceptable for a fuel standard. There are larger bio mass machines on the market in US but not applicable for a small farm operation. We worked on using different mixtures of fresh manure and bedding to come up with acceptable ratios of moisture and matter content. The experiment continues and we have general guidelines to share. While we have not sold or used any bricks, yet, we feel these bricks can add to the profit line on a farm if they can be made efficiently and economically. Where there is livestock manure, there can be functional and cost free bi-products!
Most small livestock keeper have more manure than they know what to do with. For years I would look at my growing manure piles and wonder what else I could do with them. We use the manure to make soil, we sell it to others to make soil, we grow millions of worms! We still have more manure than we can use. Making fuel bricks has been a desire of mine for many years. I saw how it was done on a large scale, and a very small by-hand scale. But those methods would not help me. I need a press that I can manage myself. One that will make a denser fuel brick than what can be made by hand. A brick that will, in theory, attempt to hold a fire as well as a wood log. We designed our livestock manure press on these ideas.
Our objective was to design, document and build a small livestock manure press that will sufficiently compress a raw manure/bedding mix into brick form to be used as a heating fuel. It has to be affordable to assemble for a small farmer who has more manure than can be used on the farm.
Once the press is built, we hoped to determine ingredient rations for best briquette formation, and document pre and post drying methods that achieve the best compromise of heating value and briquette durability. Samples were to be tested for moisture content to establish highest BTU/lb for longest burning time and quality.
We collected manure from the stall floors and lane ways of our micro-dairy barn in New York state to use in the press as well as at our new farmstead in Texas, where we moved in November 2017. Heating value of livestock manure is known to be comparable to grass/wood/other biomass materials used in commercial fuel bricks. We had hoped to set benchmarks for contents and drying standards for the briquette. High heating value (BTU/lb.) is required to provide a long lasting fire in a wood stove.
Initial research for this project began before the proposal was written and helped us to write the application to SARE. I researched all the various methods livestock manure has been and is currently used around the world to create fuel blocks for cooking and heating, building blocks for housing, as a stucco finish for exterior siding in construction, for ingredients for medicinal purposes, and simply for inspirational art and mural making. For me as a small farmer living in the northeast, I wanted to find a functional use for my ever growing cow manure pile. My goal was to make an easy to use hydraulic press to compact the most dense brick possible.
Finding an innovative and interested fabricator who could share an interest in a small farming technique would be necessary as I do not have welding and machinist skills. After inquiring among several local small farmers, I found one! Steve Lonsky was described as a very creative welder by many people I spoke with. An innovative small farmer himself. While meeting with him at his home to discuss this project he showed me many things that he had fabricated out of stainless steel. He made a maple syrup vat, a hood for his cooking range, a wood stove…and decorative items as well. Impressive work and beautiful to look at, all with the handicap of only having two fingers on each hand. He has a great imagination and right away he started his inventive thinking process with the design of the livestock manure press.
There were 2 phases to this project. 1. Build the press that makes the bricks. 2. Make the bricks. Dry the bricks. Burn the bricks. Test the bricks for content and moisture percentages for best burn quality.
I have included are photos of the building phase with captions detailing the process. The livestock manure press is now completed. Anyone interested can contact the fabricator for more details or questions.
The total cost of equipment and materials is listed here:
Honda OHV engine 270cc GX series 8.5 hp was recommended for enough power to compress the blocks. 557.98 There are certainly many other choices.
Hydraulic cylinder – 3000 PSI 2” bore, 10” stroke to open the door to let the brick out of the press: 97.99
Hydrauluc cylinder – 3000 PSI 5” bore, 24” strike to press the bricks: 309.99
Hydrauluc pump: 189.99
Spool lever operated valve to move the cylinder: 204.21
Hoses and parts: 67:18
Steel parts and Spindle: 477.66
Bolts, nuts, washers, coupling spider, couplings: 67.87
Ball hitch: 17.98
Cans of black paint: 6.42
Steel for fabrication: 120.00
Hoses and parts: 67.18
Oil filter and misc. parts: 27.59
Pipe and fender washers: 12.62
Clamps etc. 41.07
Stainless steel for hydraulic fluid tank: 60.00
parts for hydraulic set up: 42.53
Notebook for manual: 6.37
Fabricator labor for 146.5 hours for making and assembling parts: 3,662.50
Here are a few photos of assembly of the press.
The second next phase is to practice making manure bricks and to develope a recipe that meets the standards of a brick designed for maximum burn density. The basic ingredients are livestock manure, bedding such as straw, or wood shavings, and water. I will document the process to find what works best. Next the bricks will be dried for 2-3 weeks in an environment free from rain. In this case, under tarps on racks. A hoop house would be ideal, which we intended to do but have moved to our new farm where there is no hoop house.
The best sample will be sent to a bio mass testing lab for analysis of moisture and matter content.
In early 2017 we began designing the press. All set to build and my fabricator Steve Lonsky fell from his tractor and broke his foot. The building of the press was postponed until August. We built the press, and by early November we had one on-farm demonstration of the press with a mixed group of small farmers and interested residents. We made a few trial bricks to primarily test the functioning of the press.
We were fortunate to complete the press and have one successful demonstration before my husband, myself, 12 cows, 8 chickens, 6 dogs and 2 cats and all our cheese making and farm equipment moved to Texas from New York state where the project started.
When we arrived in late November, 2017 we realized we did not have enough manure from our cows to make the bricks. But by diligently using our “poop scoop” we have accumulated a decent enough pile including straw bedding to proceed.
We want to emphasize that we were fortunate that Fabricator Steve Lonsky took on this project with fervor and produced a physically strong and capable piece of machinery that did what we set out to accomplish.
In an ideal world, I would be a trained mechanical engineer and would describe the process as if taking it to the patent office. That is beyond the scope of this SARE grant unfortunately. But hopefully we can interpret the construction of the press in a way so that it can be reproduced.
In the second phase, we are trying to make the best fuel brick for the purpose of burning in a wood stove or fire place for heat or for cooking, documenting all work and publishing the results so that other interested farmers and homeowners with a beautiful abundance of livestock manure can make their own press.
Hydraulic Fuel Pump Engine mount point
Another view of Ram attachment
This is a photo of one of the two steel pins that are inserted in the expulsion door hinges
The description of the press is covered in the previous section. The making of the manure blocks is just beginning as of January, 2018. We have tried several batches with incrementally more successful results, but we are looking for consistency of product and a rhythm of production that will make this a successful endeavor. It’s essential that the bricks can be manufactured and dried in a timely way so that it makes sense for a small farmer to want to make use of this process. Ultimately, to add profit to the farm operation this process will have to be stream line and be efficient enough to make enough bricks to help with the fuel supply on the farm. Additionally, be potentially successful enough to make enough bricks to sell, trade, and be documented for further study for use as a building material.
We are in the early stages of forming bricks. Our first few bricks were extremely wet. We were surprised when the press, in all its strength, shot wet manure up into the air, then rained down a manure shower on all recipients heads during our first demonstration! Many squeals could be heard! That sample was too wet. We have refined the recipe, less water, more manure and bedding which yielded variations of bricks that are too firm, crack and do not hold their shape. We first were putting unmixed manure into the press hopper and pushing it down to meet the hydraulic press. This method of preparation did not work. It was too dry and clumpy. We are now collecting manure with less bedding (straw and hay stepped on by our cows in their corral) and stirring a manure/water/bedding concoction in a bucket so that it is more uniform going through the press.
We will be setting up cinder block and mesh control stations for drying and analyzing the bricks. Then we will burn them and also send them to a biomass testing lab for results.
Engine and Hydraulic set up
The first step in this project was to fabricate the livestock manure press based on a need to make functional use of livestock manure that may be more abundant than needed on a small farm. Based on research, help from my tech advisor Chris Callahan, and my ingenious fabricator Steve Lonsky, the hydraulic press has been completed except for the installation of the small hydraulic cylinder that opens and closes the door where the manure brick expels from the press. The press is functional, we have had a successful demonstration of the making and operating of the press.
Here are photos of the completed press in detail. Please excuse the manure in the photos. These pictures were taken while in use.
There will be more photos in the final report to document the making of the briquettes.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
When the livestock Manure press was completed in November of 2017 we had an educational demonstration/tour for 4 farmers and several other members of the community on our farm in King Ferry NY. The farmers present were a dairy farmer, hay producer, beef producer and honey producer. It was not advertised or public ally announced. The group came together by word of mouth. Fabricator Steve Lonsky was there to discuss the design and build of the press. He did our first brick making session with a mixture of manure from our Dexter cows and bedding straw. The percentage of moisture was very high and the bricks were too soft. There was no pre-calculation involved regarding ratio of water to manure and straw. The presentation was meant to be an initial run through to primarily demonstrate the building and use of the press.
Four farmers were at our initial presentation/tour/educational demonstration of our livestock manure press. They we’re very interested in the concept of making use of manure to create a functional product. It was a foreign idea to most of those who were there, but one farmer was familiar with practices using manure in other countries. There was peaked interest in the design of the press and it’s capability to hydraulically have enough power to form the bricks in relation to engine size and power. This press is also designed to split logs and has a splitter blade that can be installed when not using it to make bricks. We also discussed the potential ability to make and dry bricks for structural uses on the farm, such as for sheds or housing for small livestock. Well have to wait for feedback from educational outreach when we have more product to demonstrate before we know what impact it will have on a small farming community.
The above set of photos is from a rudimentary manual that we put together during the building process of the press. Addtional photos and videos will be added to support the design process to assist others who might want to build a similar press. The level of detail described to design the press is limited, and not what would be expected from a mechanical engineer perspective or for patent requirements. We do hope a creative farmer/welder can extrapolate from this model enough detail to build one similar to this press. More details on Fabricator Steve Lonsky’s concepts of pressure may be required to make a compressed brick later. More info will be added.
The livestock manure press has been completed except for the small hydraulic cylinder that opens and closes the door that releases the brick from the press. The door can manually be opened and closed with pins, but is cumbersome and not an efficient process.
The press has been demonstrated to a small group of interested farmers and others to work as expected. We are now fine tuning the recipe to create an optimum brick for fuel burning.
We have successfully relocated our farm to Texas along with our Dexter cattle business, now called Himmel Haus Farm at Quarry Hill.