Student business turns waste water into plant growth

On many farms, "poop water," or the wastewater from livestock, ends up in large manure lagoons. However, Lemna, a 2020 startup co-founded by ASU alumnus Travis Andren, is working to revolutionize the idea of waste in animal farming by turning this poop water into plants.

Lemna, operated by a trio of ASU alumni, including Andren as CEO, utilizes a technique called phytoremediation, where living plants are introduced to polluted soil, air, or water to rid them of contaminants via a highly productive aquatic plant called Lemnaceae — Lemna's namesake.  Popularly known as duckweed, these vibrant green leaves serve more than just electric aesthetics.

The startup was supported by ASU’s Master of Science in Innovation and Venture Development (MSIVD) program. MSIVD assisted Andren, who finished the program in July, in funding and refining a business plan for Lemna's mission to reimagine how cattle farms dispose of wastewater for the sake of the environment, the surrounding communities, and the farmers themselves.

Andren was inspired by new research on duckweed and vertical hydroponic farming, a compact technique that provides nutrients to produce and sustain plants in water. He considered utilizing the plants to clean the contaminated manure water, with their ultimate growth being an added bonus.

To achieve the startup's goal of cleaning contaminated water before it reaches nearby communities, Lemna proposes an alternative to the manure lagoons. The venture designed an isolated system where wastewater is put onto stacked trays and continuously treated with duckweed. This process removes contaminants and balances nutrients until the water is safe enough to put back into the farms’ irrigation system.

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