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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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From odors to honors

It may not sound like a compliment, but Richard Nicolai doesn't mind being called an "odor expert." In fact, it's his work with foul smells--specifically how to get rid of them--that earned the farmer and professor at South Dakota State University in Brookings the title of Environmental Steward of the Year. The honor was bestowed by the National Pork Board (www.porkboard.org) for Nicolai's work with biofilters. He is one of four named stewards for 2003.

Biofilters have long been used in drainage fields to reduce odors from septic tanks. While working on odor-control technologies at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Nicolai read about tests conducted in Europe where biofilters were used on farms. "But they concluded that it was too expensive," said Nicolai, who is a member of both St. Paul (Hector, Minn.) and Ascension (Brookings, S.D.) Lutheran churches. "I had been a farmer for more than 30 years, and I was able to use that knowledge to help find a way to make the idea applicable and affordable. I tried it on my farm, and it cut 90 percent of the odors."

And the cost for the biofilters, which consists of layers of wood chips and compost, is less than $120 per thousand cubic feet per minute of air to be treated.

Nicolai's discovery has practical applications on places other than farms. Similar biofilters can virtually eliminate odors caused by city sewage-treatment facilities or other industrial plants.

"All I've done is use the gifts that God has given us to care for his land," he said. "We are all stewards of this Earth, and God has provided for us the tools we need."

Nicolai is working on improving biofilter systems. He hopes that as they become more effective and widely used, the systems will improve relations between pork producers and their communities.


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