Invention Turns Waste into Fertilizer

Using technology, local businessman Loran Balvanz is proving you can put a dollar sign in front of pig waste, feathers and onion peels.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Using technology, local businessman Loran Balvanz is proving you can put a dollar sign in front of pig waste, feathers and onion peels.

Now he's targeting a huge new market: small towns and municipalities in the United States seeking solutions to sludge.

Balvanz turned a profit for the first time in 2004 with his Tempest drying system. He is president of Global Resource Recovery Organization, a Bradenton-based recycling company.

Four years in the making, the Tempest is a portable system mounted to a truck. It removes moisture from waste using air traveling up to 700 miles per hour.

Moreover, it produces an end product that can be sold as feed or fertilizer.


Balvanz has sold eight units ranging from $300,000 to $1.8 million in locales from Ireland to Oklahoma.

Applications include paper pulp and pig poop.

Now Balvanz hopes to apply the technology to human waste.

Using a cyclonic air system, the Tempest can remove moisture from sludge, or human waste, after it comes out of water treatment plants, Balvanz said.

A Growing Problem

Historically used to fertilize pastures and grass fields, sludge is no longer considered optimal for land application.

New state rules for sludge disposal have Manatee and other counties requesting proposals for solutions, and Balvanz wants to be first in line.

Balvanz demonstrated his technology to Manatee County utility officials in 2001 and 2002 in the early stages of its development, with disappointing results.

"We failed miserably," said Balvanz.

He put the failure down to a sticky polymer used by all municipalities to coagulate sewage that didn't allow the machine to work right.

"Since then, our technology has evolved tremendously," he said.

Proposals to Manatee County are due April 1, but the county has rejected an air-drying method like Balvanz's in favor of a heat-drying system, based on the recommendations of consultants, said David Shulmister, waste water division manager for Manatee County utility operations.

"We were looking for a proven technology," Shulmister said. "The county has been looking for a permanent, long-term solution for sludge disposal for a long time."

Interest in the air-drying technology has Balvanz's cell phone ringing every few minutes. At an EPA meeting in Tallahassee last week, he ran out of business cards and brochures.

His potential clients, municipalities, were there to learn about new rules of sludge disposal, which aim to clamp down on the spreading of waste over farmlands.

Florida Cities Want a Peek

Next month in Sumter County, Balvanz plans to demonstrate the system to 87 Florida municipalities.

The federal government wants soil monitoring and odor control requirements.

"There's too many unknowns in what's in the sludge," Balvanz said. "If the same pasture is oversaturated, nitrates and phosphates go into the ground water."

His system reduces volume by 80 percent, Balvanz said. Sludge can be blended with other products before it goes in the dryer for an end product that's ready for market.

The mobile system can be rented, leased, rent-purchased or operated for a per-ton fee of $35 to $70 per ton.

"Every city can now be in compliance," Balvanz said. "Everyone has parks and recreation. They're huge consumers of top soil and this will qualify."

From Sludge to Fertilizer

For municipalities that seek a way to offset the costs of the expensive system, Balvanz is marketing a recycling unit that attaches to the Tempest, turning sludge into fertilizer.

"There's no reason why they can't get into the business," he said.

Manatee County plans to use residue left over by a future heat-drying solution to fertilize county lands and golf courses, Shulmister said.

Less certain is whether the county will get into the business of selling fertilizer.

"Some municipalities have had difficulty selling the product," Shulmister said. "The plan is we will use the product at the landfill, mix it with turf to cover land fill and maybe use for golf courses. We do have that option that we could get into marketing the product."

Balvanz has a letter of intent from the city of Los Angeles to see the Tempest system work.

Ernest & Julio Gallo, California winemakers, used it on grape residue. When it dries, it looks like corn flakes and can be used for cattle feed, Balvanz said.

A chicken farmer in Florida tried it on wet feathers at a rendering plant. Dried feathers are 16 percent protein and can be turned into feed, Balvanz said.

It's been tried on pig skins by Kraft Foods, resulting in protein for dog food.

TecEnergy, an Oklahoma company, uses it to remove residues from dirt that comes up at oil wells.

"Usually, pig skins and wet feathers end up in landfills," Balvanz said. "People want to do good by the environment but they don't have the tools. All we're doing is giving them the tools."

Balvanz has $33 million in potential contracts in the works, he said. Three distributors are licensed to sell the product, with 10 more in negotiation.

The company is 89 percent owned by Balvanz, with Lance Ringhaver, a recently retired Caterpillar dealer from Tampa, as one of its larger stockholders.

GE Capital and John Deere Finance are offering financing for the company.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News