It's a new twist on an old joke, but it's true. Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) is restoring a former coal power plant to do exactly that, in the rural community of Lumberton, North Carolina.
Agriculture is an enormous industry in North Carolina. Known as the American Broiler Belt, the state garners hundreds of thousands of jobs from this industry, most of which comes from poultry. More than 5,700 farmers sell this type of harvest statewide and the local economy is $37 billion larger because of it.
Reflecting this success, chicken coops are expanding, both in size and in number. But because some of these farms produce 700 tons or more poultry manure each year, they're exceeding the amount of farmland that can use it as fertilizer. It has to go somewhere else, and if not managed properly, unneeded manure can be dangerous to the health of local waterways and the people who depend on them. READ MORE
Its PLF-500 biomass furnace offers a pioneering farm technology that addresses financial, health and environmental issues facing the agriculture industry.
Global Re-Fuel's warm-air biomass furnace – now in use on a farm in Texas – converts raw poultry litter into energy, providing heat to broiler houses while creating a pathogen-free organic fertilizer.
"A ton of litter has the equivalent energy content of 67 gallons of propane. Extracting that heat and using the ash as fertilizer is a really good situation, which not only helps farmers, but is also beneficial to the environment," says Glenn Rodes, a farmer who has used the technology on his Virginia poultry farm.
As the number of poultry operations in the U.S. increases, so do the attendant problems.
Today, there are more than 110,000 broiler houses in the country, with that number expected to exceed 131,000 by 2024, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) growth projections of the industry.
More than 32 billion pounds of poultry litter were generated in 2015. That number is expected to grow to more than 37 billion pounds per year by 2024, which will exacerbate the soil nutrient overload that contributes to runoff pollution into US waterways.
In addition, poultry farms require a great deal of propane to heat broiler houses, with the average broiler house using about 6,000 gallons of propane each year.
In 2015, more than 8.5 million tons of CO2 were emitted from burning propane to heat broiler houses, and that number is projected to grow to almost 10 million tons by 2024, according to the USDA. Global Re-Fuel's technology eliminates nearly 100 percent of propane usage, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 70,000 lbs/yr/house.
"The Global Re-Fuel PLF-500 increases farmers' operating margins, decreases pollution, eliminates propane usage – which reduces CO2 emissions – and improves poultry living conditions," says Rocky Irvin, a founding member of Global Re-Fuel and a poultry grower for more than 10 years. "It's good for the family farm and the environment."
The emphasis of many developments was increasingly on the ability to control applications in order to better make use of the nutrients in muck and slurry, and record those applications for traceability and future nutrient planning.
The growing trend to engage contractors to spread muck has also led to machinery becoming higher in capacity and increasingly heavy duty to cope with increased workloads and more powerful tractors. READ MORE
Air-air heat exchanger developed in the Netherlands specifically for the poultry industry.
An innovative minimum ventilation system for poultry barns is improving bird health and reducing energy costs for farmers in the process. And it comes with some environmental benefits too – lower ammonia levels and better dust control.
In 2013, Jack Van Ham and his son, Jerry, were able to secure cost-share funding from the Implementation Funding Assistance Program under Growing Forward 2 (GF2) to become the first poultry farmers in Ontario to install an air-air heat exchanger developed in the Netherlands specifically for the poultry industry.
The Van Hams are based in Oxford County, Ontario, where they have two farms with identical broiler barns built between 1999 and 2003, and grow 2.3 kg birds in an eight-week cycle.
“We knew this technology was available in the Netherlands, where farmers can recoup heat from dry manure in layer barns, and they are seeing overall savings of about 50 per cent in energy costs,” says Jack Van Ham.
The system evolved out of a European Union regulation that restricted ammonia output from poultry barns.
It uses the energy of the warm air from the barn to heat the cold, fresh air coming in from the outside, replacing the propane or natural gas farmers traditionally use to heat poultry barns, and reducing on-farm energy costs.
Warm air from the barn enters the heat exchanger, passing through tubes where the cold outside air absorbs the heat before being circulated into the barn. A computerized control system manages airflow and fan speeds, adjusting for fluctuating outside temperatures according to the season.
The bigger the differential between inside and outside temperature, the more heat the system will recoup, says Jack.
The minimum ventilation system improves the air circulation to rid barns of humidity, allowing manure to dry more quickly. This minimizes ammonia production and reduces its output into the environment from the barn by fans.
The drier inside air also means a better environment for both barn workers and the birds, with the Van Hams, for example, noticing fewer foot lesions due to better quality litter and improved overall bird health. This has meant a reduction in health-related expenses on the farm.
The Van Hams made some changes to their systems to adapt them to the Canadian environment, such as switching the electrical work to Canadian standards, and adjusting the computer software to account for Canada’s winter temperatures, which are much colder than they are in the Netherlands.
Due to its unique status of being the first of its kind in Ontario, the project qualified for additional funding under GF2’s innovation designation.
“We might not have done this project without the grant as it’s a big investment,” admits Jerry Van Ham, but adds that it has yielded a lot of environmental benefit, as well as decreasing their natural gas costs.
“The air quality is tremendous. We saved a lot on energy last winter, but the air quality for the chickens has really improved,” adds Jack, explaining that although the system has raised their electricity costs, the natural gas savings more than make up for that increase.
Industry interest in the system has been high, and the Van Hams are no longer the only farmers in Ontario using the technology.
They’ve shared what they’ve learned with poultry specialists from the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), as well as with fellow producers.
“This system would be especially ideal for barns with birds in them all year long, like broiler breeders, as it can be hard to get the dampness out,” says Jack.
GF2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative aimed at encouraging innovation, competitiveness, market development, adaptability, and industry capacity in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector.
Lilian Schaer is a writer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
The KMC 6400 litter windrower forms windrows for composting bedding material in poultry houses, inverts the windrows, and spreads the bedding material for the next flock. Operators realize greater than 30 percent reduction in work time.
The KMC 6400 is PTO powered to maximize horsepower transfer from the tractor. Blade angle and position are adjustable with hydraulic cylinders. Hydraulic rear gauge wheels adjust the blade height, preventing floor gouging and allowing an even spread of litter. A floating hitch link keeps the blade parallel to the floor. The dual overlapping auger system has a rotation direction that reduces the dust thrown toward the operator and discharges material into the windrow instead of pushing it forward.
A discharge grill and chopper blade system breaks up large clumps of litter, releasing trapped ammonia and homogenizing moisture for more uniform composting.
The AE50 Awards are presented annually by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers in recognition of that year’s product innovations in the areas of agricultural, food, and biological systems.
As the U.S. biomass thermal and power industry continues to expand, new technologies reporting higher efficiency solutions are being introduced.
Agronomy professor Dr. Brad Joern, who has made a name worldwide as an expert on nutrient management, has been selected to receive Purdue University’s 2011 Spirit of the Land Grant Mission Award.
The plan by a company called EnergyWorks to build a $30 million thermal gasification plant near Gettysburg, Penn., to process manure generated by the state’s largest egg producer is one of those ideas that seems to have “can’t miss” written all over it.
Because the United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of poultry meat and second largest egg producer, there can be little doubt that managing poultry litter is no yolk.
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