Speakers 2021

Rebecca Larson | https://bse.wisc.edu/staff/larson-rebecca/

Dr. Larson is the extension manure handling technologies specialist and an associate professor for UW Madison Extension & Department of Biological Systems Engineering.  She earned in Ph.D. in biosystems engineering from Michigan State University. Dr. Larson’s areas of interest including biological waste; manure management; handling and treatment of agricultural and food processing waste; agricultural sustainability; land application of various waste streams, including runoff and leachate; and waste-to-energy technologies, including biogas production from anaerobic digestion.





Peter Wright | https://cals.cornell.edu/peter-wright

Peter Wright is a Professional Engineer licensed in New York State. He works part-time as an Agricultural Engineer in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University, Ithaca NY. Pete assists the Dairy Environmental Systems and Soil and Water Engineering components of Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY program, concentrating on sustainability for dairy farms, greenhouse gas and water quality issues as well as environmental practices for farms. He grew up in upstate New York on a dairy farm performing manure management chores. He has worked for over 40 years helping farms develop their manure management systems.  Pete has a B.S. ’77 and an MEng ’78 degree from Cornell in Agricultural Engineering.




Horacio Aguirre-Villegas | https://bse.wisc.edu/staff/aguirre-villegas-horacio/

Dr. Horacio Aguirre-Villegas is a scientist at the Biological Systems Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research lies at the intersection of climate change, energy, waste management, and food production. He has extensive experience evaluating renewable energy systems and integrating waste-to-energy technologies to increase environmental sustainability. Over the last ten years, he has worked closely quantifying the environmental impacts of conventional and organic dairy systems including greenhouse gas emissions, ammonia emissions, resource use, and nutrients fate. He is interested in evaluating different manure management practices and technologies that can be implemented in small and permitted facilities to reduce these impacts. Dr. Aguirre-Villegas received his doctorate in Biological Systems Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.




Victor Zavala | https://energy.wisc.edu/about/energy-experts/victor-m-zavala

Victor Zavala is a Baldovin-DaPra Professor of Chemical & Biological Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Victor Zavala’s research group specializes in the formulation of optimization and statistical models for control, estimation, and system design, and in the development of computational techniques to solve such models on high-performance computers. Applications of interest include infrastructure systems, energy systems, agricultural systems, supply chains, materials, and chemical production facilities.

Michel Wattiaux |https://andysci.wisc.edu/directory/michel-wattiaux/

Dr. Michel Wattiaux was very involved in the daily work of the family dairy farm where he grew up in Belgium. The thirst for knowledge to better manage the farm was a powerful motivator as he became a first-generation College student. In 1985 Michel came to UW-Madison and earned a Ph.D. in Dairy Science.

Michel began to work with the “Babcock Institute for International Research and Development” at the University of Wisconsin, Madison shortly after its inception in 1992. While at the Institute, he authored four dairy management-related books in a series of “Technical Dairy Guides” and 35 “Dairy Essentials”, which have been translated in six languages (Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Turkish) and have been distributed in more than 80 countries.

As a full Professor, Michel has continued to expand the boundaries of his scholarship as he challenged himself to research and teach new courses that delve not only on the technological aspects of farming but also into the environmental and social dimensions of agriculture and food systems. Since March 2019, Michel has served as interim Director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS). The center was established in 1989 to address issues in sustainable agriculture and food systems using participatory action research methods, strong community engagement, and interdisciplinary faculty collaboration.

Mahmoud Sharara https://www.bae.ncsu.edu/people/sharara/

Dr. Mahmoud Sharara is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at North Carolina State University.  He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from the University of Arkansas with the support of the University of Arkansas Doctoral Academy Fellowship. He was a postdoctoral research associate and an assistant scientist at the Biosystems Engineering Department and the Wisconsin Energy Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Dr. Sharara’s research focuses on investigating pathways for the sustainable management of agricultural waste and byproducts to generate value-added products and reduce agriculture-related impacts on ecosystems. His research incorporates the use of field studies, process modeling techniques, techno-economic assessment (TEA), life cycle assessment (LCA), and spatial optimization tools to guide the development and adoption of sustainable waste management practices and technologies.


Amy Schmidt | https://engineering.unl.edu/bse/faculty/amy-schmidt/

Dr. Amy Schmidt is an animal manure management specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Biological Systems Engineering Department.  Her appointment includes 30 percent extension, 40% research, and 30 percent animal science.  Her areas of research and professional interest include nutrients fate and transport; pathogen fate and transport; water quality, and manure and nutrient management.  Dr. Schmidt received her Ph.D. in biological engineering from Mississippi State University and is a licensed professional engineer in Mississippi.




Joe Harrison | https://ansci.wsu.edu/people/faculty/joe-harrison/

Dr. Harrison is a Livestock Nutrient Management Specialist at Washington State University. In addition to his research and extension responsibilities, he teaches the Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS) course, an undergraduate student cooperative that manages their own 35 cow dairy herd. Dr. Harrison is classically trained as a dairy nutritionist and has developed expertise in the area of whole-farm nutrient management, which involves the integration of animal nutrition, agronomy-crops-soils, engineering, and economics. Areas of research interest include a reduction in nitrogen import to dairy farms in feeds by precision ration balancing,  extraction of phosphorus from liquid dairy manure for off-farm use as a fertilizer, relationship of manure application to groundwater nitrate content, fate and transport of bacteria in manure managed in an anaerobic digester, transformation and utilization of anaerobically digested manure for crop production, and potassium nutrition of the early lactation dairy cow.


Erin Cortus | https://bbe.umn.edu/directory/department-faculty/erincortus

Erin Cortus joined the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota in August 2017. Her position as Assistant Professor and Extension Engineer is to provide engineering expertise in the area of sustainable animal agriculture systems. Erin was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. She earned her Bachelor of Agricultural and Bioresource Engineering degree and Ph.D. at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Cortus also has eight years of experience in a similar Research and Extension role at South Dakota State University. Her past and ongoing projects include measuring the air quality impacts of different manure management practices in swine, poultry, dairy, and beef cattle barns, and the impacts of providing additional microenvironment control for grow-finish pigs and cattle. The broad mission of Dr. Cortus’ program is to work with producers and communities to understand and continually improve the quality and productivity of livestock environments.


Kevin Dobson | https://newlook.dteenergy.com/wps/wcm/connect/dte-web/dte-pages/dte-biomass-energy/pages/leadership-bios

Kevin Dobson is Vice President of Business Development, with DTE Biomass Energy and has been with the company since 2007. In this role, he leads all the acquisition and greenfield development activities of both landfill and dairy farm-based renewable energy projects. The company develops and operates both renewable natural gas (RNG) and electric generation
projects across the country. DTE’s current portfolio includes 7 dairy based RNG facilities, 4 landfill based RNG projects, and 12 landfill based electric generation projects. Kevin’s responsibilities include identifying prospects, evaluating economic and technical feasibility, proposal development, contract negotiations, and scheduling and implementation activities. Prior to DTE, Kevin worked in Ford Motor Company’s Corporate Business Development group focused on mergers and acquisitions within the auto industry. He received his MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in 2003.


Nick Elger | Program Manager AgSTAR & Global Methane Initiative

Nick is the Program Manager for the EPA AgSTAR Program and serves as the Agriculture Lead with the Global Methane Initiative. In his role as Program Manager for AgSTAR, Nick works with the U.S. livestock industry, state and federal agencies, and biogas industry stakeholders to advance the deployment of biogas systems. While supporting the Global Methane Initiative, Nick helps advance anaerobic digestion of organic feedstocks globally for methane mitigation and energy production.  Nick has over six years’ environmental management experience in government, private consulting, and non-profits.  He graduated from the University of Minnesota where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management and is currently a Master of Business candidate at the George Washington University.




Robert Levin | Chief Executive Officer Digested Organics

Robert holds a PhD. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a B.A. Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from Middlebury College. He is a serial entrepreneur with over ten years of experience in the animal feed, renewable energy, and waste-to-energy spaces. Before leading the team at Digested Organics he co-founded and later sold an animal feed biotech business producing immune-promoting ingredients from algae.

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