U of I researchers have designed a small, remote-controlled boat
that can sail across a waste treatment lagoon, measuring the amount
of sludge in the lagoon along the way. The mini boat eliminates both
the hazards and the hassles of measuring sludge the old-fashioned
way -- by sticking a pole into various spots of the lagoon.
The fiberglass boat measures approximately 1 foot by 2 feet and
uses a fish finder combined with GPS to determine the depth of the
sludge and its location in the lagoon, said Matt Robert, a visiting
research engineer with the department of Agricultural and Biological
Sludge is the nutrient-dense material that is left in a lagoon
after bacteria have digested most of the organic concentration of
the livestock waste, he said. New EPA regulations require livestock
producers to know how much sludge is in their lagoon. Traditionally,
producers have had to take a small boat and a long pole out on the
lagoon, sticking the pole in at various spots, measuring the amount
of sludge found at each spot and mapping it all out along the way.
"It's a lot of tedious work and it's dangerous, not to mention
the fact that you're in a very unpleasant place," Robert said.
So Robert and a student, Andrew Lenkaitis, decided to build their
own boat, after speaking with researchers at other universities who
were working on similar projects.
"North Carolina and Texas A & M bought a boat to use, but they
were having problems with the different idiosyncrasies of taking it
on a lagoon, as compared to just regular water," he explained. "We
knew we'd have the same problems, so when Andy said he wanted to
build it, we were excited to see what he could do with it."
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The result is a fiberglass hull that is propelled by air, with
two battery-powered electric motors. The "heart and soul" of the
boat, said Lenkaitis, is the fish finder and GPS module. Most of the
components are completely sealed from the environment, and the boat
has a sturdy handle that makes loading it and unloading it a
"We'd like to be able to go around the state to measure lagoon
depths, and this is a very easy way to do it," said Robert. "There
are a lot of lagoons from the 1970s, and the accumulation depth on
them is going to be significant."
Robert believes this technology will allow producers to be more
environmentally friendly by practicing better lagoon management.
"We'd also like to write a paper for Extension and let producers
build these boats themselves," he added. "Almost all the components
for the boat can be purchased off the shelf at your local hobby
shop. The total cost is less than $1,800."
Although Robert is eager to share this technology with producers,
he's just as pleased to have it for himself as well.
"One day I came back from a lagoon, and I was messy and tired,
and tired of doing this. The sludge boat came out of a long
conversation I had with a colleague about ways to make my life
easier," Robert said. "I hope I'll never have to get on another
[News release from the
University of Illinois College
of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences]