Development of a Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) Detection System for Slurry Applicators

Robert T. Burns, Faculty, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering


Each year swine are lost to hydrogen sulfide poisoning during slurry removal and application.  Commercial slurry applicators and producers agree increased ventilation is necessary during pump-out events.  Due to slurry application occurring post-harvest during colder temperatures, increased ventilation can lead to stressful conditions impacting swine health or increased heating costs.  Previous research has shown that concentrations can go from harmless to dangerous in a matter of minutes.  Currently no tool is available for applicators and producers to safely remotely detect hydrogen sulfide gases.

Although it is never recommended a person enter a swine house during slurry agitation, use of a system to detect hazardous conditions in a swine house combined with effective ventilation or agitation techniques to prevent hazardous conditions could increase human safety in the event of inadvertent entry. 


The objective of this project was to develop a portable, wireless hydrogen sulfide detection system for use in swine production systems during manure agitation and removal from under-floor swine manure slurry storage pits.


A team of researchers from the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department was assembled to develop and test a wireless hydrogen sulfide detection system for use in swine housing.  The team desired a system that required a short warm-up time and little training to operate.  The team tested multiple commercially available hydrogen sulfide sensors in the laboratory and field.  From those results a prototype was developed to be tested by commercial slurry applicators.  A two-piece prototype consisting of a sensor/transmitter and a receiver was constructed.  The sensor/transmitter is turned on and placed inside the barn when applicator crews arrive to the site to set up.  Within two hours the sensor is ready to use.  The sensor signal is sent outside the barn using a wireless communication system where the operator can safely and remotely monitor the concentration via a digital display on the receiver.  An operator programmed visual and audio alarm are incorporated into the receiver.  The alarm can be programmed to activate at concentrations between 0-500 ppm.

Funding was provided by a grant from the National Pork Board.


The prototype was used spring 2008 by Puck Custom Enterprises (PCE), a custom slurry removal and application business located in western Iowa that applies over 100 million gallons of slurry at over 100 swine sites per year.  The prototype was used at 5 sites of finishing or sow barns.  The warmer weather permitted increased ventilation and no hydrogen sulfide bursts were experienced.  However, based on the team’s field test results, PCE has changed its operating procedures.  PCE no longer agitates the surface of the slurry.  The upper discharge is capped and when the slurry level is just above the lower discharge gun it is also capped to allow continued agitation without disturbing the surface.  PCE will use the prototype again during the slurry application season post-harvest this fall.


150  Iowa Pork Industry Center

Page last updated: August 26, 2008
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