Asphalt From Pig Manure?

Desperate times call for crazy measures. As high feed costs put livestock producers in a bind —especially dairy farmers — how do you milk your business for more profits? Spend six figures on waterbeds for your cows! You may have heard of the Oregon dairy farmer who's doing that — "Happier cows, happier milk."

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Happier cows may also mean...more abundant cow manure, which leads me to today's funny business.

I'm in Iowa covering the drought, and Tuesday I interviewed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on CNBC's "Power Lunch".

While we were waiting to go live, the Secretary and I engaged in the usual chitchat to pass the time. I powdered my nose and checked corn prices as he spoke excitedly about all the future uses for agricultural products. He mentioned the plant-based soda bottle made by Coca Cola .

Then he said something about hog manure and asphalt.

"Wait, what did you say?" I asked. "Go to Ohio, they're working on it," he answered. "Working on hog manure as asphalt? Does it smell?" I said. "It doesn't smell," the Secretary assured me. "I'll take your word for it," I replied.

Sure enough, a company called NuVention Solutions in Valley View, Ohio, is developing an asphalt binding additive made from...manure.

"Do you know we have 900 million tons of animal waste a year?" asked NuVention's President, Jim Sattler.

That's a lot of b.s.

Sattler, however, isn't using cow manure but pig manure in an additive he's testing which can replace up to 15 percent of asphalt. A pilot project in Missouri "shows no signs of deterioration" and "appears to be performing well after having been in place for a year."

Sattler says he received about $1.5 million in grant money from various Ohio agencies and is building a plant for 750 hogs to show "proof of concept." There are also plans to build a barn for 2,500 hogs. Each hog dumps about four pounds a day, which could help lay a lot of road.

But that's not all.

NuVention is also developing a product using swine manure in roofing. Pig on a hot tin roof!

So, whether on the roof or the road, does it smell? "It's smells a bit at the mixing plant," Sattler admits, "but on the road you can't smell it." He says the best way to describe the smell is like a "cigar ash tray...but we're working on getting rid of even that odor."

Bottom line, the cost of turning asphalt into road hogs doesn't save money...yet. The asphalt costs about the same, $600-$650 a ton, with or without the sooie sewer. However, Sattler believes asphalt will be harder to come by "as we're wringing more oil out of every barrel." He says the manure-based additive could potentially be plentiful, and tests show it also allows pavers to use more recycled asphalt in the final material than they currently do. "That could save $2,000 to $4,000 per lane mile."

Who knew crappy roads could be a good thing?

-By CNBC's Jane Wells
@JaneWellsQuestions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email