Title:
Microbial manure treatment system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
In another form of the invention, there is provided a system for treating a manure slurry, comprising: a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; and an intermediate facultative stratum comprising facultative microbes. In another form of the invention, there is provided a system for treating a manure slurry, comprising: a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes. In another form of the invention, there is provided a system for treating a manure slurry, comprising: a manure lagoon comprising: an aerator for creating an aerobic stratum within only a portion of the manure slurry. In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for treating a manure slurry, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; and an intermediate facultative stratum comprising facultative microbes. In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for treating a manure slurry, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes. In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for treating a manure slurry, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: an aerator for creating an aerobic stratum within only a portion of the manure slurry. In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for fertilizing crops, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; withdrawing from the manure lagoon at least a portion of the upper aerobic stratum; and distributing the withdrawn portion of the upper aerobic stratum on the area containing the crops. In another form of the invention, there is provided a depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit for aerating a selected portion of a fluid body, comprising: a body comprising at least one hollow internal structure; an air inlet communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from an external air source may be introduced into the at least one hollow internal structure; at least one fine bubble aerator communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from the at least one hollow internal structure may be released through the at least one fine bubble aerator into an adjacent fluid; and at least one weight pod attached to the body, wherein the at least one weight pod comprises structure for adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, whereby the buoyancy of the aeration unit may be adjusted so as to permit the at least one fine bubble aerator to be positioned at a desired depth in a fluid body. In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for aerating a surface layer in a stratified liquid body, comprising: providing a depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit comprising: body comprising at least one hollow internal structure; an air inlet communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from an external air source may be introduced into the at least one hollow internal structure; at least one fine bubble aerator communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from the at least one hollow internal structure may be released through the at least one fine bubble aerator into an adjacent fluid; and at least one weight pod attached to the body, wherein the at least one weight pod comprises structure for adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, whereby the buoyancy of the aeration unit may be adjusted so as to permit the at least one fine bubble aerator to be positioned at a desired depth in a fluid body; connecting an air source to the air inlet, and positioning the unit in a fluid body; and adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, so as to position the at least one fine bubble aerator within the surface layer of the stratified liquid body.



Inventors:
Campion, William R. (Portsmouth, RI, US)
Donohue, William J. (Barrington, RI, US)
Lin, Chuzhao (Barrington, RI, US)
Application Number:
11/149782
Publication Date:
02/09/2006
Filing Date:
06/10/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
C02F3/30; B01F3/04
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Primary Examiner:
PRINCE JR, FREDDIE GARY
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Mark J. Pandiscio (Pandiscio & Pandiscio, P.C. 470 Totten Pond Road, Waltham, MA, 02451-1914, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A system for treating a manure slurry, comprising: a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; and an intermediate facultative stratum comprising facultative microbes.

2. A system according to claim 1 wherein at least some of the anaerobic microbes in the anaerobic stratum are indigenous to the manure.

3. A system according to claim 1 wherein the anaerobic microbes in the anaerobic stratum support fermentation and methanogenesis.

4. A system according to claim 1 wherein the anaerobic microbes in the anaerobic stratum comprise fermentative bacteria.

5. A system according to claim 4 wherein the fermentative bacteria break down soluble and insoluble organic materials and converts them to volatile fatty acids, alcohols and other products.

6. A system according to claim 1 wherein the anaerobic microbes in the anaerobic stratum comprise methanogenic bacteria.

7. A system according to claim 6 wherein the methanogenic bacteria use acetic acid, alcohol and other compounds to create methane and carbon dioxide.

8. A system according to claim 1 wherein at least some of the aerobic microbes in the aerobic stratum are artificially introduced into the aerobic stratum.

9. A system according to claim 1 wherein the aerobic microbes in the aerobic stratum oxidize organic carbons and volatile fatty acids.

10. A system according to claim 1 wherein the aerobic stratum comprises oxygen, wherein at least some of the oxygen is artificially introduced into the aerobic stratum.

11. A system according to claim 10 wherein the oxygen is artificially introduced into the aerobic stratum without being substantially introduced to the anaerobic stratum.

12. A system according to claim 10 wherein the oxygen is artificially introduced into the aerobic stratum using a aerator.

13. A system according to claim 12 wherein the aerator comprises a fine bubble aerator.

14. A system according to claim 13 wherein the fine bubble aerator provides intra-layer mixing of the aerobic stratum while avoiding inter-layer mixing of the aerobic stratum with the anaerobic stratum.

15. A system according to claim 12 wherein the aerator introduces oxygen to the aerobic stratum by introducing air into the aerobic stratum.

16. A system according to claim 12 wherein the aerator comprises a buoyant aerator.

17. A system according to claim 1 wherein the facultative microbes are able to function with and without oxygen.

18. A system according to claim 1 wherein the facultative microbes convert carbon, nitrogen and other containments to proteins, amino acids and other byproducts.

19. A system according to claim 1 wherein amendments are added to at least one stratum of the lagoon.

20. A system according to claim 19 wherein the amendments comprise at least one selected from the group consisting of: growth stimulators, vitamins and minerals.

21. A system according to claim 19 wherein the vitamins comprise B vitamins.

22. A system for treating a manure slurry, comprising: a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes.

23. A system for treating a manure slurry, comprising: a manure lagoon comprising: an aerator for creating an aerobic stratum within only a portion of the manure slurry.

24. A method for treating a manure slurry, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; and an intermediate facultative stratum comprising facultative microbes.

25. A method for treating a manure slurry, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes.

26. A method for treating a manure slurry, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: an aerator for creating an aerobic stratum within only a portion of the manure slurry.

27. A method for fertilizing crops, comprising: creating a manure lagoon comprising: a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; withdrawing from the manure lagoon at least a portion of the upper aerobic stratum; and distributing the withdrawn portion of the upper aerobic stratum on the area containing the crops.

28. A depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit for aerating a selected portion of a fluid body, comprising: a body comprising at least one hollow internal structure; an air inlet communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from an external air source may be introduced into the at least one hollow internal structure; at least one fine bubble aerator communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from the at least one hollow internal structure may be released through the at least one fine bubble aerator into an adjacent fluid; and at least one weight pod attached to the body, wherein the at least one weight pod comprises structure for adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, whereby the buoyancy of the aeration unit may be adjusted so as to permit the at least one fine bubble aerator to be positioned at a desired depth in a fluid body.

29. A method for aerating a surface layer in a stratified liquid body, comprising: providing a depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit comprising: a body comprising at least one hollow internal structure; an air inlet communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from an external air source may be introduced into the at least one hollow internal structure; at least one fine bubble aerator communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from the at least one hollow internal structure may be released through the at least one fine bubble aerator into an adjacent fluid; and at least one weight pod attached to the body, wherein the at least one weight pod comprises structure for adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, whereby the buoyancy of the aeration unit may be adjusted so as to permit the at least one fine bubble aerator to be positioned at a desired depth in a fluid body; connecting an air source to the air inlet, and positioning the unit in a fluid body; and adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, so as to position the at least one fine bubble aerator within the surface layer of the stratified liquid body.

Description:

REFERENCE TO PENDING PRIOR PATENT APPLICATIONS

This patent application:

(1) is a continuation-in-part of pending prior U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/941,666, filed Sep. 15, 2004 by William R. Campion et al. for METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR AERATING A SURFACE LAYER IN A STRATIFIED LIQUID BODY (Attorney's Docket No. PROACT-0103); and

(2) claims benefit of pending prior U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/578,767, filed Jun. 10, 2004 by William R. Campion for PRO-ACT MICROBIAL MANURE TREATMENT SYSTEM (Attorney's Docket No. PROACT-2 PROV).

The two above-identified patent applications are hereby incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to a treatment and odor-reduction control system for wastewater containment areas in general, and more particularly to a treatment and odor-reduction control system for biological waste containment areas such as manure lagoons and the like.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Manure management has become an increasingly complex issue for livestock producers, dairy farmers and the like, causing many farmers to alter their manure-handling techniques. Other changes are resulting from environmental legislation, “public nuisance” legislation and increasing environmental awareness about biological wastes and odor emissions from livestock facilities. By way of example but not limitation, over 70 volatile compounds of biodegradation, many considered objectionable by the non-farm public, have been identified in gases emitted from animal wastes.

Given the moratorium in many areas on hog production and dairy expansion due to ongoing environmental concerns, it has become clear that traditional methods of biological waste control (such as simple aeration and/or covering the smell through covers or pit additives) simply do not achieve the necessary odor and solids control required.

Thus, there is a need for a cost-effective system that reduces or eliminates manure odors, treats and controls the solids and, if necessary, minimizes manure crust formation.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, one object of the present invention is to provide a novel system for deodorizing a manure slurry of the type held in a manure pit or lagoon.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a novel system for treating and controlling solids in a manure slurry.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a novel system for reducing odors in the air surrounding a liquid manure containment area.

Another object of the present invention is to provide a novel system for stratifying the contents of a manure lagoon so as to facilitate treatment of the manure slurry contained within the manure lagoon.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a novel system for separating the contents of a manure lagoon so as to (i) liquefy the manure slurry and reduce the total suspended solids to allow for field spray dispersal of the liquid with little or no odor and a desired chemical content, and (ii) concentrate the remaining solids so as to reduce the total volume of the solids.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a novel system for controlling biological waste which offers a solution to manure problems without requiring major infrastructure changes to current manure-handling operations.

In accordance with these and other objects, the present invention provides a novel system for treating and controlling the manure in a manure lagoon in an economical way which reduces odors, liquefies the manure so as to provide a gentle, fast-acting fertilizer and minimizes the remaining solids.

In one form of the invention, there is provided a novel biological waste treatment system which aerates, in a controlled fashion, an upper stratum of a manure slurry contained in a manure lagoon. More specifically, an upper stratum of the manure slurry is aerated while anaerobic conditions are maintained in a lower stratum of the manure slurry. Preferably a facultative stratum is established between the upper aerobic stratum and the lower anaerobic stratum. Bioaugmentation of the manure slurry increases the aerobic, facultative and anaerobic digestion processes. This arrangement permits efficient microbial digestion of the manure waste while reducing the odoriferous gases.

Thus, in one preferred form of the invention, there is provided a microbial manure treatment system for treating a manure lagoon, wherein the system establishes three stratum: a lower anaerobic stratum, an intermediate facultative stratum, and an upper aerobic stratum.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a system for treating a manure slurry, comprising:

a manure lagoon comprising:

    • a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes;
    • an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; and
    • an intermediate facultative stratum comprising facultative microbes.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a system for treating a manure slurry, comprising:

a manure lagoon comprising:

    • a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and
    • an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a system for treating a manure slurry, comprising:

a manure lagoon comprising:

    • an aerator for creating an aerobic stratum within only a portion of the manure slurry.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for treating a manure slurry, comprising:

creating a manure lagoon comprising:

    • a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes;
    • an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes; and
    • an intermediate facultative stratum comprising facultative microbes.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for treating a manure slurry, comprising:

creating a manure lagoon comprising:

    • a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and
    • an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for treating a manure slurry, comprising:

creating a manure lagoon comprising:

    • an aerator for creating an aerobic stratum within only a portion of the manure slurry.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for fertilizing crops, comprising:

creating a manure lagoon comprising:

    • a lower anaerobic stratum comprising anaerobic microbes; and
    • an upper aerobic stratum comprising aerobic microbes;

withdrawing from the manure lagoon at least a portion of the upper aerobic stratum; and

distributing the withdrawn portion of the upper aerobic stratum on the area containing the crops.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit for aerating a selected portion of a fluid body, comprising:

a body comprising at least one hollow internal structure;

an air inlet communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from an external air source may be introduced into the at least one hollow internal structure;

at least one fine bubble aerator communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from the at least one hollow internal structure may be released through the at least one fine bubble aerator into an adjacent fluid; and

at least one weight pod attached to the body, wherein the at least one weight pod comprises structure for adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, whereby the buoyancy of the aeration unit. may be adjusted so as to permit the at least one fine bubble aerator to be positioned at a desired depth in a fluid body.

In another form of the invention, there is provided a method for aerating a surface layer in a stratified liquid body, comprising:

providing a depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit comprising:

    • a body comprising at least one hollow internal structure;
    • an air inlet communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from an external air source may be introduced into the at least one hollow internal structure;
    • at least one fine bubble aerator communicating with the at least one hollow internal structure, whereby air from the at least one hollow internal structure may be released through the at least one fine bubble aerator into an adjacent fluid; and
    • at least one weight pod attached to the body, wherein the at least one weight pod comprises structure for adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, whereby the buoyancy of the aeration unit may be adjusted so as to permit the at least one fine bubble aerator to be positioned at a desired depth in a fluid body;

connecting an air source to the air inlet, and positioning the unit in a fluid body; and

adjusting the weight of the at least one weight pod, so as to position the at least one fine bubble aerator within the surface layer of the stratified liquid body.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a schematic view illustrating one embodiment of a novel manure treatment system formed in accordance with the present invention; and

FIGS. 2-4 are views illustrating an aerator which may be used in connection with the present invention.

Table 1 illustrates various operating characteristics of a manure lagoon implementing the novel manure treatment system of the present invention—the sampling data illustrates the stability of the lagoon over an extended period of time and the vertical stratification of the contents of the lagoon (all tests were conducted based on methods documented in “STANDARD METHODS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF WATER AND WASTEWATER”).

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

An untreated manure lagoon will traditionally establish an anaerobic digestion process, due to the fact that (i) anaerobic microbes are generally indigenous to fecal matter, and (ii) insufficient air will enter the body of the lagoon to support any substantial aerobic digestion which might be introduced by airborne aerobic microbes. As a result, this traditional one-stage anaerobic digester is slow to digest the biological waste in the lagoon and produces a great quantity of unpleasant gases.

The present invention provides a novel biological waste treatment system that comprises, in a preferred form of the invention, a three-stage digester for manure lagoons, pits and the like. This three-stage digester works faster and more efficiently than the conventional one-stage anaerobic digester present on most dairy farms. More particularly, and looking now at FIG. 1, the novel three-stage digester of the present invention vertically stratifies the manure lagoon into three layers: (i) a bottom anaerobic layer AN, (ii) an upper aerobic layer AE, and (iii) an intermediate facultative layer FA.

The bottom anaerobic layer AN is an oxygen-poor environment which supports digestion by anaerobic microbes. In this layer, fermentation as well as methanogenesis takes place. The fermentative acid-forming bacteria breaks down soluble and insoluble organic materials and converts them to volatile fatty acids, alcohols and other products. Methanogenic bacteria in the anaerobic layer AN use acetic acid, alcohol and other compounds produced by the aforementioned fermentation process and convert these materials into methane and carbon dioxide. Such conversion of the insoluble organic materials to gaseous material reduces the quantity of solids present in the lagoon.

The intermediate facultative layer FA comprises facultative microbes which reside in the transitional zone above the anaerobes. The facultative microbes in the intermediate facultative layer FA are able to function with oxygen if oxygen is available; however, the facultative microbes can switch to an anaerobic metabolism if oxygen is not available. Thus, the facultative microbes are extremely flexible. As the carbon, nitrogen and other contaminants rise through the lagoon, the facultative microbes continue the conversion of these materials to proteins, amino acids and other by-products started by the anaerobes in the anaerobic layer AN. The facultative microbes use free oxygen if it is available; lacking that, the facultative microbes can use nitrite, nitrate, sulfate, fumarate, etc. as terminal electron acceptors. The products of the facultative layer FA rise to the aerobic layer AE for “polishing and further processing”, as explained below.

The upper aerobic layer AE is an oxygen-rich environment which comprises aerobic microbes. This oxygen-rich environment is created by carefully adding oxygen to the layer, as will hereinafter be discussed. In the aerobic layer AE, organic carbons are oxidized to carbon dioxide and emitted from the lagoon. Additionally, the volatile fatty acids produced by the anaerobic fermentative bacteria in the anaerobic layer AN are oxidized by the aerobic bacteria in the aerobic layer AE when the volatile fatty acids rise from the bottom anaerobic layer AN. Significantly, by consuming the volatile fatty acids produced by the fermentation process in the anaerobic layer AN, the aerobic layer AE helps alleviate the inhibition that these fermentation products exert on the methanogenic bacteria present in the anaerobic layer AN. Furthermore, by using up the volatile fatty acids, which are odiferous, the bacteria in the aerobic layer AE act as an odor cap to minimize odor emanating from the manure lagoon. The bacterial biomass produced in the aerobic layer AE will in turn settle down into the facultative layer FA and, ultimately, the bottom anaerobic layer AE, where the biomass is digested by the anaerobic bacteria at the bottom of the manure lagoon.

Preferably additional aerobic microbes are introduced into the aerobic layer to enhance the aerobic digestion in this stratum of the lagoon (“bioaugmentation”). This can be achieved by placing the additional aerobic microbes within water soluble packages which are introduced into the lagoon; after introduction, the packaging breaks down, permitting the additional aerobic microbes to be introduced to the aerobic layer.

Table 1 illustrates various operating characteristics of a manure lagoon implementing the novel manure treatment system of the present invention.

In essence, with the three-stage digester discussed above, the facultative microbes of the facultative layer FA consume the gases produced by the anaerobes of the anaerobic layer AN, alleviating manure odor gases. The aerobic microbes of the upper aerobic layer AE act as an odor cap, and “finish off” any gases that get through the facultative layer. The droppings from the aerobic layer AE and facultative layer FA, detritus, fall to the bottom and fertilize the anaerobic microbes of the anaerobic layer AN. The increased microbial activity requires carbon supplied by the manure solids. The anaerobic microbes pull the carbon out of the solids, converting it to methane and carbon dioxide.

Thus, in one aspect of the present invention, careful aeration of a selected portion of the manure lagoon facilitates establishment of an aerobic layer within the manure lagoon. Such aeration is preferably provided in the form of fine bubble diffused air carefully applied to only the upper aerobic stratum AE so as to avoid disrupting the lower anaerobic stratum AN. In this respect, it should also be appreciated that the aerobic microbes utilized in the novel biological waste system of the present invention are similar to the ones that digest the raw manure when applied to the field. This digestion function is now performed in the manure lagoon itself, such that when material is drawn off from the manure lagoon and applied to the field, much of the nitrogen is fixed, making it a gentle, fast-acting fertilizer.

In another aspect of the present invention, a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic microbes and amendments are added to the manure lagoon to augment the microbiologic activity. More specifically, the addition of a broad-based microbial mix, along with growth stimulators, vitamins and minerals (particularly B vitamins), facilitates the creation of the novel three-stage digester of the present invention in place of the traditional, single-stage anaerobic digester of a traditional manure lagoon. Among other things, the amendments added to the manure lagoon can address the specific nutrient requirements of each layer, whereby to enhance each stage of the multi-stage digester.

It should be appreciated that, if desired, the present invention may be practiced without the establishment of a facultative layer FA, i.e., a two-stage digester may be established in the manure lagoon, comprising a lower anaerobic layer AN and an upper aerobic layer AE.

As noted above, aeration is preferably provided in the form of fine bubble diffused air carefully applied to only the upper aerobic stratum AE so as to avoid disrupting the lower anaerobic stratum AN. Thus, the present invention preferably also provides a novel, depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit for aerating a surface layer in a stratified liquid body.

In one preferred form of the invention, and looking now at FIGS. 1-4, the novel, depth-adjustable, fine bubble, surface layer aeration unit comprises an aeration unit 5. Aeration unit 5 generally comprises a body 10 formed by a plurality of connected pipes P so as to define one or more hollow internal structures 15. By way of example but not limitation, hollow internal structures 15 may comprise the hollow interiors of the interconnected pipes P; alternatively, hollow internal structures 15 may comprise other chambers or cavities or passageways formed in or about body 10. Body 10 also comprises an air inlet 20 communicating with the one or more hollow internal structures 15, whereby air from an external air source can be introduced into the one or more hollow internal structures 15. Body 10 also comprises one or more aeration pipes PA communicating with the one or more hollow internal structures 15, whereby air from the one or more hollow internal structures 15 can be released through holes (not shown) in the sidewalls of the aeration pipes PA and into an adjacent fluid when aeration pipes PA are positioned in a target liquid. Aeration pipes PA are provided with air diffusers 25 for releasing air in a controlled, fine bubble fashion from the interior of the aeration pipe PA.

Aeration unit 5 also comprises weight pods 30 attached to body 10 Weight pods 30 include means for adjusting their weight. In one preferred construction, weight pods 30 comprises one or more internal chambers 35 for receiving or removing weight material, i.e., ballast. Internal chambers 35 are accessed by removable caps 40. Removable caps 40 enable additional weight to be added to, or subtracted from, weight pods 30, thereby allowing the buoyancy of the aeration unit 5 to be adjusted, whereby to facilitate the precise positioning of the aeration pipes PA relative to a liquid layer. For convenience, weight pods 30 are preferably constructed so that the removable caps 40 are positioned above the surface of the fluid in which aeration unit 5 is floating, so that the buoyancy of aeration unit 5 can be adjusted in-situ. In FIGS. 2 and 3, selected portions of weight pods 30 are shown in phantom to illustrate how the height of removable caps 40 may be varied relative to the level of aeration pipes PA, so as to provide convenient in-situ access to removable caps 40.

As seen in FIGS. 2-4, body 10 of aeration unit 5 is preferably constructed from a combination of pipes P which are connected together to form a flowpath from air inlet 20 to the air diffusers 25 of aeration pipes PA. By way of example but not limitation, a combination of joined-together PVC pipes (e.g., 2″ and/or 3″ diameter pipes) can be used for such a construction. Alternatively, body 10 may be constructed from molded plastic elements, molded resin units, components made of other materials that will hold air and provide a desired buoyancy to the structure, etc.

Aeration pipes PA preferably comprise a plurality of pipes PA arranged in a planar fashion, whereby to facilitate disposition in a substantially horizontal layer of fluid. Aeration pipes PA include openings (not shown) in their sidewalls for releasing air from the pipe. Air diffusers 25, in the form of thin, air permeable membranes, are positioned over the aforementioned openings in the aeration pipes PA. This construction allows air to escape in a controlled fashion through the membrane and then into the water, creating a relatively uniform dispersion of fine bubbles. This construction provides excellent intra-layer mixing of the liquid body so as to help the microorganisms come into contact with the dissolved and suspended organic matter, while avoiding undesirable inter-layer mixing of the liquid body, which disrupts the stratification of the liquid body and makes it difficult to apply a separate treatment regimen to each layer of the liquid body. The diffuser membranes used in air diffusers 25 are of the sort well known in the waste treatment industry. By way of example but not limitation, such diffuser membranes may comprise EPDM (or similar material) or polymer diffuser membranes.

It will be appreciated that aeration pipes PA, the apertures (not shown) in the sidewalls of the aeration pipes PA, and the air diffusers 25 all work together to form fine bubble aerators which release air from the one or more hollow internal structures 15 into an adjacent liquid body in the form of fine air bubbles.

As noted above, aeration unit 5 is preferably equipped with weight pods 30 comprising removable caps 40 that enable weight material (e.g., water) to be added to, or subtracted from, body 10. By adding or subtracting weight to the weight pods, the buoyancy of the aeration unit 5 is easily adjustable. The upward pressure exerted upon the air-filled aeration unit 5 by its host fluid, further augmented by the pressure caused by air being released through the air diffusers 25, can be accurately counterbalanced by adding an appropriate amount of weight material to the weight pods, thereby allowing precise positioning of the aeration pipes PA relative to the liquid layer which is to be aerated.

Such precise positioning of the aeration pipes PA, coupled with the fine bubble aeration provided by the air diffusers 25, allows aeration to be limited to only the liquid layers at (or above) the level of the aeration pipes PA. As a result, by carefully adjusting the buoyancy of aeration unit 5 so that the aeration pipes PA are disposed in a top aerobic layer AE of a manure lagoon, oxygen may be supplied to microbes located in the top aerobic layer AE of a liquid body without adding oxygen to the facultative layer FA or anaerobic layer AN in the lower substrates of the liquid body.

In one preferred form of use, and looking now at FIG. 1, aeration unit 5 is connected to an air source 45 by a hose 50 and then positioned in a manure lagoon 55 (or the like). Using removable caps 40, the weight of weight pods 30 is then adjusted so as to establish the desired buoyancy for aeration unit 5, whereby aeration pipes PA (and hence air diffusers 25) will be located within a target layer in the fluid body, e.g., the top aerobic layer AE. Additionally, the total volume of liquid in the manure lagoon can be reduced by a floating suction unit 5A that is connected to a pump 45A by a hose 50A. Furthermore, liquid can be withdrawn from the upper aerobic layer AE by a floating suction unit 5B that is connected to a pump 45B by a hose 50B.

Numerous advantages are obtained through the provision and use of the present invention. For one thing, the system is very economical and requires no infrastructure changes to the farm operation. In addition, the system provides an additional benefit of decreasing the formation of a surface crust on the manure lagoon, thereby reducing fly propagation. Furthermore, the ability to create an aerobic and anaerobic balance within the manure lagoon facilitates a reduction in odor, a significant improvement of organic digestion and solids control, and a reduction in pathogens sometimes found in water recycled from the containment area. Still other advantages will be appreciated by those skilled in the art when practicing the present invention.

It is also to be understood that the present invention is by no means limited to the particular embodiments herein disclosed and/or shown in the drawings, but also comprises any modifications or equivalents within the scope of the claims.