Disposing of hog waste is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Dr. Elham Fini, an assistant professor of civil engineering and researcher at Greensboro-based North Carolina A&T State University, decided that she was the woman for the job and developed a revolutionary process that has the potential to change both the paving and hog farming industries forever.
After spending over four years researching the adhesive properties of pig manure, Dr. Fini pioneered a unique process to break down the manure and convert it into an asphalt-binding adhesive. The innovative biobinder can be used as either a full or partial substitute to standard petroleum-based adhesives and, at only about $0.54 a gallon, costs significantly less than its $2-a-gallon petroleum-based binder counterparts.
With the majority of her research behind her, Fini is ready to prove this product in the marketplace and has started a company with her N.C. A&T colleagues called PiGrid. PiGrid (rhymes with ‘hybrid’) hopes to establish a pilot production facility somewhere in North Carolina before moving forward with plans for national hubs.
Why North Carolina? Waste management and the disposal of hog manure has been a long-time problem for North Carolina farmers. While other parts of the country use hog waste up to twice a year to fertilize crops, North Carolina has fewer crops so farmers store waste in pits and lagoons. Not only does PiGrid reduce the cost of the storage pits but it also reduces the environmental pollution caused by manure odors, prevents spills of millions of gallons of untreated waste into groundwater, and even reduces the amount of CO2 emissions during construction.
Dr. Fini received more than $1 million in financial support from the National Science Foundation, National Academy of Science and N.C. A&T State University for her PiGrid development.
Research has been a long-time hallmark of the Greensboro university where Dr. Fini works. Current major research projects at the university include innovations in biomedical engineering and nanobio applications, as well as the development of advanced thermochemical biomass conversion technology. Fini says the creation of PiGrid is in line with the university’s goals of economic development and innovation, as outlined in its Preeminence 2020 strategic plan.
Dr. Fini holding her pig waste asphalt creation. (photos: Charles E. Watkins)