Frank Mitloehner

2006 Award for Excellence in Research

Perhaps Frank Mitloehner was, as one recommender says, “in the right place at the right time.” But this young scientist’s extraordinarily rapid development of a focused and well-funded research program derives more from acute, skeptical analysis of accepted premises; innovative, rigorous scientific methods; use and design of state-of-the-art technology; the leadership skills to create the research facilities and collaborative teams, and the communications skills to raise grants and disseminate his findings through scientific journals, conferences, and the popular press.

With a Ph.D. from Texas Tech University in 2000, Mitloehner began working at UC Davis in January 2002 as a cooperative extension specialist. An expert in the environmental management of livestock, he aimed to improve California’s air quality by determining the causes and limiting the formation of harmful air pollutants. When the Clean Air Act eradicated agriculture’s exemption from emission control regulations in 2003, the San Joaquin Valley was renowned for the worst air quality in the nation and regulatory agencies targeted the dairy industry as a major source of smog-forming gases.

After determining that efforts to establish emissions controls for dairies relied on ancient and often indefensible data, Mitloehner developed unique facilities and new equipment to make precise, complex measurements. He built temperature-controlled, dirt-floored, domed structures designed to simulate drylot corral conditions. These bovine bio-bubbles permit precise measurement of ammonia, dust, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), distinguishing those produced by cattle, feed, and wastes. He collaborated with other scientists to design, develop, and field-test a laser-based ammonia analyzer for agricultural emissions and applied novel analytical technology (proton transfer reaction mass spectrometer) to measure hundreds of gaseous organic compounds.

In a contentious field with high economic and environmental stakes, Mitloehner’s meticuous methodology has produced objective, reliable results useful to producers and regulators alike. His research has shown that feeding dairy cows less crude protein dramatically reduces harmful nitrogen emissions, without compromising milk production. Another study proved that a regulatory focus on manure lagoons was misplaced: in fact, cow belching, fermented feed, and fresh waste contribute more significantly to smog-production from dairies than waste storage.

To fund this innovative work, Mitloehner has secured $2.1 million in research grants as Principal Investigator and another $300,000 as co-P.I. from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the California State Water Resources Board, the California Energy Commission, and the California Air Resources Board.

Mitloehner and his collaborators have published more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles in the last five years, in leading journals such as Journal of Animal Science, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and Measurement Science and Technology. He has also delivered more than 70 invited presentations, to industry groups, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, national committees, and research universities, and delivered papers at two dozen academic conferences on air quality, environmental management, animal science, and agricultural engineering. More than 70 articles have reported his results to the popular press.

Mitloehner’s landmark findings have shifted the focus of regulatory agencies and producers from waste management to more effective techniques of reducing emissions through improved cow housing and feed management. His research has tremendous environmental and financial implications and tangible impacts on the health and well-being of Californians.