Tim Ott, Project Scientist at DVO, Inc.

A job to count on for the long haul

As a young man, Tim Ott dreamed of moving to Colorado to start his career. Little did he know that his dream job was waiting for him right in his own backyard.

Tim Ott conducts water quality testing at a DVO, Inc. anaerobic digester facility in Chilton, WI (Photo: Pat Robinson)

Tim works for DVO, Inc. — an anaerobic digester company located just six miles from his hometown of Hilbert, Wisconsin. He started working for DVO right after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in natural resource management. He never expected he’d still be at DVO 21 years later.

“I took the first job related to my field and I am still here. It’s been good.”

DVO, Inc. anaerobic digester facility in Chilton, WI (Photo: Pat Robinson)

DVO is the nation’s largest producer of anaerobic digesters — systems that convert organic waste, such as cow manure or food waste, into renewable energy in the form of biogas. This biogas can be used to generate electricity or scrubbed to produce renewable natural gas. The digesters also break down waste into other useful products such as livestock bedding, soil amendment, and crop fertilizer. The system also destroys pathogens, rendering the digested liquids and solids more environmentally friendly, and reducing on-farm odors.

Dairy cows provide the manure that goes into the digesters and is converted into biogas. (Photo: Pat Robinson)

One of Tim’s first roles with the company was installing anaerobic digesters on dairy farms. He estimates he helped install nearly 50–60 systems over 15 years. Now, he’s DVO’s project scientist and gets to apply his natural resource conservation skills to finding new ways to put cow waste to good use. He’s currently working on a system that recovers phosphorous and other nutrients from the digested liquids, greatly reducing the pollution potential of industrial, municipal and agricultural waste streams. The extracted nutrients can easily be transported and sold as a soil amendment, fertilizer or peat moss replacement.

It’s the challenge of the work, and the satisfaction of doing something to help the planet, that Tim likes most about his job.

“I like the challenge of solving these problems. Plus, I wake up every day knowing I’m helping and not hurting the planet.”

Tim is just one of more than 1,000 people employed in the state’s biogas industry. In fact, Wisconsin has one of the strongest bioenergy sectors in the region. It is one of only two states, along with Illinois, to have over 20% of its total renewable energy generation jobs in the bioenergy sector.

Tim estimates that for every four cows worth of manure, you get 1 kilowatt hour of energy. With nearly 1.3 million cows in Wisconsin, that’s a lot of bovine power that could be tapped.

“We’re doing positive things here,” he said. “The people here care about what we are doing and feel it is important to keep finding ways to conserve and reuse our resources.”

Tim and his family at their home in Hilbert, WI (Photo: Pat Robinson)

For Tim, having a job that he can count on for the long haul is important to him and his family. He has two teenage children who will soon be off to college. His son, age 15, wants to study natural resource management just like his dad. Who knows, maybe he’ll be the next in line for a job at DVO. If Wisconsin’s bioenergy sector keeps on growing, he should have plenty of opportunities to choose from.