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Millennium in Maryland

First poultry manure digester in Maryland drawing widespread interest and support


The anaerobic digester pilot plant is taking shape at Millennium Farms. Once complete, it will produce biogas from 1500 tons of poultry manure produced annually at the farm and also separate phosphorus from the nutrient stream. Photo Contributed.

Maryland is getting serious about controlling the amount of poultry-derived nutrients seeping into Chesapeake Bay, and poultry producer Millennium Farms is developing a manure processing technology that, if economical, could make a significant dent in controlling this problem.

Jason Lambertson, owner of Millennium Farms and a longtime poultry producer in the state, has partnered with a group of local businessmen and technical experts in a company called Planet Found Energy Development to build a pilot plant at the Pocomoke City area farm that will use anaerobic digestion of poultry manure to produce biogas as a fuel to generate power. The system includes nutrient separation technology to ensure that phosphorous is reduced from the byproduct stream before it has the opportunity to potentially seep into Chesapeake Bay if land applied.

Construction on the pilot project began in the spring. Completion and commissioning will likely occur in early 2015. Developers are hoping to construct the pilot plant as economically as possible with the State of Maryland contributing over $674,000 to use primarily to install and refine the nutrient recovery system. It will separate the nutrient streams from the processed manure. The funds were provided through the state’s revitalized Department of Agriculture Animal Waste Technology Fund.

Because of the impact that nutrients flowing into Chesapeake Bay are having on water quality, the state is discussing the possibility of limiting raw poultry manure application, which could limit producers to application on only 15 percent of available farmland. Should this limitation proceed, this would result in a massive shortfall of land available for poultry manure application compared to the size of the industry.

“It could get to the point where it would affect the poultry industry trying to be viable here if the farmers did not utilize the manure,” says Lambertson. “It could really harm the industry and that’s what we don’t want to happen.”

That’s why so many, including government representatives at various levels, are watching to determine the viability of the manure treatment technology being investigated at Millennium Farms. This is also what motivated Lambertson and other local investors to partner with a group of scientists with knowledge about anaerobic digestion on the Planet Found Energy Development business to build a pilot version of a potential system.

The anaerobic digestion technology being installed at the poultry farm was adapted from technology that has been common in other parts of the world for decades. However, this will be the first poultry anaerobic digester installed in Maryland with added nutrient separation.

The system starts with the farmer dumping loads of raw poultry manure into the introduction tank where the manure is mixed with water. From there, the slurry is pumped into one of two anaerobic digestion tanks. They are large, 200 cubic meter tanks in which the biogas produced from processing the poultry manure bubbles to the top before being captured and transported to an engine where it is burned as fuel to drive a generator on site. The processed material exits the tanks and flows through the nutrient recovery system where the undesirable nutrients can be stripped out and the remainder transported to a post treatment pit where it is dried. At this point, it is a usable mulch that can be spread on the fields without restriction or sold as organic fertilizer. There are two other tanks in the system. One is a buffer tank that allows system operators to better control the material being processed in the anaerobic digesters so that they work at optimum biogas production efficiency. The other is a clean water holding tank that helps to control the water flow through the closed loop system.

“We were bent on building the pilot, but with the help of the state, it is making it that much easier for us to obtain quantifiable results and show farmers that there are some open pathways to be able to generate renewable energy on site for their benefit,” says Lambertson. Monitoring and research assistance is being provided by the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland.

Even if the land application restrictions don’t come about and the system demonstrates how farms can produce fertilizer and reduce energy costs, Lambertson says, “it could be a win-win for the farmer.”

Millennium Farms was chosen as the ideal site for a pilot plant because it is a modern computerized and automated facility in an area where the land has high levels of phosphorus and it is close to Chesapeake Bay. So it is in the backyard of where the technology is needed the most. The farm produces 160,000 pullets for Tyson Foods annually, which equates to over 12 million broilers from the parent flock. In total, there are eight barns that generate about 1500 tons of manure. The manure is a mixture of wood shavings used as bedding and animal droppings. Millennium Farms also grows corn, wheat and soybean on 2000 acres, and typically their poultry manure would be land applied as an organic fertilizer and a means of disposing of it. As with other poultry farms in area, the issue is the amount of phosphorus in that raw manure and its impact on local waterways.

The Lambertson family has been producing chickens since the 1950s, but Jason built his current farm starting with four barns in 2000 and adding four barns in 2009. Although they have had adequate farmland in the past to dispose of their poultry manure, the state’s consideration of limiting field application is a concern.

Once operational, the anaerobic digestion system will produce about 520 daily kilowatts (kW) of power that will be wheeled through the local Choptank Electric Cooperative transmission system. The farm will be compensated and save money on its power costs through a net metering system. Lambertson says because the system is a pilot project, they have yet to determine if the system will be capable of providing all of the poultry farm’s power needs.

“We’ll definitely be able to make a good reduction on our energy bills on the farm,” says Lambertson. They will know how much once the project is commissioned next year.

The byproduct that is discharged from the digestion tanks can be land applied, sold as fertilizer or potentially reused as bedding.

Heat generated by the anaerobic digestion system not needed to maintain the process could also be channeled to heat the poultry barns, thus creating the possibility of the farm saving a lot of money on propane heating costs. Additionally, some of the biogas could be used as heating fuel.

These are all the factors that are yet to be determined once the Millennium Farms system becomes operational.

If proven economical, Lambertson says that there are thousands of similar poultry farms in the state or Delvarva Peninsula where the system could be installed. The dream, once this technology is proven, is for Planet Found Energy Development to build and operate systems capable of producing significantly more power. They are working with the state to consider larger systems with a number of poultry producers supplying raw material for one system. The goal is to develop a system where the farm owner will only need to replenish the system with raw poultry manure and remove the processed material to a storage area once a day.

There will be no water discharge from the system as it is described as a closed loop system where all the water used to create a raw material slurry at the front end of the digester is captured and recycled within the system, which in itself will control the amount of nutrient-rich water leaving the farm that could potentially seep into local watercourses.

As far as the nutrient separation technology, Lambertson says it can be adjusted according to the needs of a particular area. While the issue is controlling the phosphorus in Maryland, another area might have a problem with sulfur content. So the system is adjustable to local requirements.

They also want to build considerable flexibility into the system so that it will work using a variety of raw feedstock. For example, there are areas where there are no wood shavings mixed in with the manure, so it has to have the capability to be able to process, “a random mix of materials.”

It also has to have the capability of being customized in size to match the needs of individual farms, depending on how much manure the farm is generating.

The owners of Planet Found Energy Development expected extra costs to build what is essentially the prototype of their system at Millennium Farms, but Lambertson says they have already recognized many areas that can be changed in the future to streamline the system and reduce construction costs.

Should the byproduct prove useful as a reusable bedding material, this could be a substantial savings for Tyson Foods, which supplies the wood shavings bedding to its growers in that area.

The overall support being expressed for proving this technology has helped to maintain the momentum through the challenging construction phase of the pilot project.

“We have the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Energy all sitting there together, all agreeing how this could help, and it’s rare to have all three of them agreeing that something like this could help to solve some of our problems,” says Lambertson.

 

 

 


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