Founder Spotlight: Karen Schuett, Founder & CEO, Livestock Water Recycling

Livestock Water Recycling: Creating value for  food producers by reducing the expense and impact of waste liquids

In the weeks leading up to Forbes-THRIVE Demo Day, we will highlight each of our startup companies, their technologies, and our reason for investing in them. This week, we highlight Livestock Water Recycling, based in Calgary, Canada and founded by Karen Schuett, which uses both mechanical and chemical treatments to remove manure contaminants and segregate valuable fertilizer nutrients at large livestock operations. Read more in the interview with Karen below and in ‘Why We Invested‘, a series written by our THRIVE Accelerator Manager, Jonathan Hua, that provides insight on how each THRIVE portfolio company aligns with our firm’s investment thesis.

 

  1. Can you talk about the LWR technology, and what kind of impact it has on the customer/farming operation? 

LWR creates value for food producers by reducing the expense and impact of waste liquids. The recently re-launched LWR2System is a proven, patented, commercialized nutrient recovery platform.Now equipped with data accumulation sensors for our subscription-based analytics program, the System reduces the volume of manure and bio liquids, concentrates nutrients into valuable crop fertilizers, and delivers a renewable, high-quality clean water source. At the height of the farm-to-table social movement consumers are demanding transparency. This technology is designed to achieve optimized production, maximum crop yields, and a high return on investment, while minimizing the environmental impact of food production.

Livestock producers who have installed the system have been given back the control of their water and waste stream. They can avoid adding expensive manure storage and can expand their herds to feed more people without increasing their water footprint. The water that is being recycled is making farms cleaner and safer for animals and employees. Farms are reducing the amount of freshwater that they are using for irrigation and are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 61%. Crop yields have also increased due to precision nutrient application.

 

  1. You talk about the circular economy – how does this kind of systems thinking inform what you do and what you are trying to achieve?

Environmental impact lies at the heart of the circular economy and the LWR manure treatment platform protects the environment while helping producers stay competitive. Our technology is designed to extract the maximum value from manure by recovering and segregating all the resources locked inside. Farms no longer have large volumes of dilute manure they are trying to get rid of, but instead have concentrated products that can create a manure economy.  This manure-based fertilizer is especially valuable to crops that are looking for organics and not synthetic fertilizers.

Farmers who install the LWR System can confidently say to their consumers that no resources were lost or wasted in the making of their products!

The key to our process is the ability to recover over 90% of the phosphorus in the manure solids as a dry fertilizer that can be re-used or sold.  This solid contains valuable organics that also regenerate soils.  The liquid fertilizer also created contains valuable micronutrients together with concentrated potassium and nitrogen.  Again, this is a saleable product.  This liquid can easily be applied with conventional irrigation equipment as it is solid-free.

 

Karen at SXSW, where she pitched before a panel of five judges and agtech and foodtech enthusiasts during the Land O’Lakes Copernicus Project installation

 

  1. One of the key tensions in climate-proofing/introducing new environmental practices to farming is that they are a financial drain on already strained farm operations- can you talk about the economics of LWR and why it is in a farmers best self interest?

Traditional manure management costs are high and add nothing to the bottom line of a large livestock operations. As an example, a1,000 cow dairy can spend $306,130 a year to get manure from the cow to the field and a dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city with 411,000 people!Expansion of US farms is restricted due to a lack of available land for manure spreading and storage, limiting both food production and revenue growth. Dairy and hog producers are currently spending between 2-4¢/gallon on their manure management using outdated lagoon and spreading systems. By installing the LWR System, producers can reduce costs to 1¢/gallon or less.

In particular, dairies who are using this technology are also improving their milk quality and increasing production. When a barn is clean and dry, the cows are cleaner and more comfortable. When a cow lays down on clean, comfortable bedding, her blood flow increases, which increases her milk production. We have also seen a 30% reduction in somatic cell counts, and reductions in slippage, injury, and mastitis where our technology has been installed.  These added benefits show their can be economic uptick involved with improved environmental practices!

 

  1. Provide some of LWR’s key metrics in terms of financial impact, environmental impact, and how large the market is for a technology like this? 

LWR Systems that are installed across the US have a combined ability to recycle over 775,000,000 gallons of manure annually with the potential recovery of over 550 million of gallons of clean, reusable water!  That’s enough water to fill 829 Olympic sized pools, or the annual water consumption of over 15,000 Americans.

Our costs savings for farmers includes reductions on manure management expenses from 1-3 cents/gallon plus the potential to increase feed crop production. This increase is significant because feed crops are the largest single expense for livestock farmers.

Manure is the most exciting and significant opportunity we have encountered in our 20+ years in the water treatment industry due to the size of the market, the magnitude of the problem, the value proposition we can provide to farms, and consumer trends of transparency & authenticity. Our total available market size $77 billion and our serviceable available market is $8 billion. This includes dairy, hog, mixed waste anaerobic digesters, and beef cattle feedlot operations in the US alone.

 

  1. One fun fact about you (outside of founding and running LWR!)

Karen is a space enthusiast who is always on the look out for her opportunity for space travel.

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