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 Delaware Nutrient Management Commission unanimously approved a pilot cost-share program intended to motivate increased adoption of freezer units.
Commission members cited several reasons for supporting the relatively new nutrient management practice, including improved worker welfare, enhanced biosecurity, better neighbor relations and a creditable reduction in pollution.
The commission, which has a long history of promoting good stewardship practices, already administers another hauling cost-share initiative. The state's manure relocation program, which has been operating for a decade, assists with the transport of litter from a farm where the excess nutrients were generated to another farm in need of nutrients or to an alternative-use facility.
"The new mortality relocation program is a natural complement to the original one," said Victor Clark, who co-owns Greener Solutions, a mortality collection service based in Millsboro. "Whether the excess nutrients are in the form of manure or mortality, encouraging alternatives to land application is one of the commission's stated strategic goals."
Interested farmers can apply to the Nutrient Management section of the Delaware Department of Agriculture for the cost-share funding. The reimbursement procedure is simple:
Growers must first register at www.accounting.delaware.gov/w9_notice.shtml before applying for cost assistance the first time.
The mortality collection company will send its customers a reimbursement form in January of each year containing the total fees paid in the prior year.
That form is then filled out and submitted to the Delaware Department of Agriculture as the invoice for mortality collection reimbursement.
The payment is then deposited directly into each applicant's bank account.
The reimbursement form will be added to the nutrient reduction statement that the collection company already mails annually to its customers. That one-page statement sets out how many pounds of mortality - along with the associated amount of nitrogen and phosphorous - were prevented from being land applied and potentially polluting area waterways.
"We thought it was important to share with the growers the real-world impact of their nutrient management efforts, so we began issuing these annual nutrient reduction statements a few years ago," said Terry Baker, Clark's business partner.
The amount of nitrogen and phosphorous being diverted from land application has broader implications. A joint application by Delaware and Maryland to assign the use of freezer units "interim best management practice" status was approved last year by the Chesapeake Bay Program's Ag Workgroup.
Member states can now use this BMP as part of their menu of options for reaching their pollution reduction targets. Once those interim numbers for nitrogen and phosphorous content are deemed final, all of the nitrogen and phosphorous that has been diverted since interim status was granted will be grandfathered in, meaning the states can claim those reductions, helping them to meet their overall nutrient reduction goals.
Chris Brosch, commission administrator, said, "The method of crediting this BMP already exists because it works the same way manure transport out of the state works, but with more ancillary benefits."
Using on-farm freezer units for mortality management is simple. Routine mortality is stored inside a specially designed freezer collection unit. A customized collection vehicle arrives between flocks to empty the units so they are ready for the next flock.
The deadstock is taken to a rendering plant where the material is recycled for other uses (like using poultry fat to make biofuels), which is why the material must be preserved in a freezer until pickup.
Growers switching to freezer units have been able to greatly reduce the time and money they previously spent on composting, realizing thousands of dollars a year in operational savings. They have also enjoyed better biosecurity because the sealed containers lock out scavengers and flies, reducing the risk of disease transmission. The grower, and the grower's neighbors, enjoy a greatly improved quality of life with the elimination of smells and flies.
For more information about the cost-share program, visit the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission at 2320 S. Dupont Highway, Camden, or call 302-698-4558. For more information about on-farm freezer collection units, go to www.FarmFreezers.com or call 844-754-2742.
Its critics charge that the anaerobic digester, if built, would pollute the air with methane and nearby waterways with nutrients while giving further license to the region's poultry industry to continue its expansion. READ MORE
According to some early findings from a study by Penn State graduate student Erica Rogers, poultry producers are potentially lowering their impact on the Chesapeake Bay.
Rogers and fellow Penn State graduate student Amy Barkley discussed those initial findings from their two master’s thesis projects with the poultry service technicians attending Monday’s Penn State Poultry Health and Management Seminar at the Lancaster Farm and Home Center.
Her project’s goal is to accurately depict poultry’s contribution to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. The Chesapeake Bay “is one of the most studied watersheds in the world,” she said, but the problem with the current model is “they are using outdated information for poultry.”
Rogers built her work around the concept that poultry litter management has changed and farmers have adopted more precise diets for their flocks. READ MORE
One strategy for dealing with poultry poop is to turn it into biofuel, and now scientists have developed a way to do this by mixing the waste with another environmental scourge, an invasive weed that is affecting agriculture in Africa. They report their approach in ACS' journal Energy & Fuels.
Poultry sludge is sometimes turned into fertilizer, but recent trends in industrialized chicken farming have led to an increase in waste mismanagement and negative environmental impacts, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Droppings can contain nutrients, hormones, antibiotics and heavy metals and can wash into the soil and surface water. To deal with this problem, scientists have been working on ways to convert the waste into fuel. But alone, poultry droppings don't transform well into biogas, so it's mixed with plant materials such as switch grass.
Samuel O. Dahunsi, Solomon U. Oranusi and colleagues wanted to see if they could combine the chicken waste with Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower), which was introduced to Africa as an ornamental plant decades ago and has become a major weed threatening agricultural production on the continent.
The researchers developed a process to pre-treat chicken droppings, and then have anaerobic microbes digest the waste and Mexican sunflowers together. Eight kilograms of poultry waste and sunflowers produced more than 3 kg of biogas — more than enough fuel to drive the reaction and have some leftover for other uses such as powering a generator. Also, the researchers say that the residual solids from the process could be applied as fertilizer or soil conditioner.
The authors acknowledge funding from Landmark University.
The investigation began following a complaint about chicken litter dumped in a crop field near the intake to an underground tile line.
On April 24, DNR discovered a certified commercial manure applicator from Iowa Falls had dumped the litter so he could remove his manure spreader, which had been stuck in a wet spot near the tile intake. Water samples from pooled water around the litter showed high ammonia levels where runoff entered the tile line.
The tile line was partially plugged, but investigators found some runoff flowed underground. Joined by several other tile lines, ammonia levels in the tile line were low by the time it flowed into a small, unnamed tributary of Maynes Creek. DNR staff found no dead fish in the stream.
"We recognize that accidents happen and some things can't be prevented," said Jeff Vansteenburg, supervisor of the Mason City DNR field office. "When something like this happens, several responses are possible including putting a plastic pipe over the tile inlet to keep runoff from going underground."
The custom applicator has worked to remove the litter and pump up ponded runoff. He has removed contaminated litter and runoff and land applied it to crop fields. Repairs to the tile line should occur this week, weather permitting.
DNR will continue to monitor the tile discharge and consider appropriate enforcement action.
The Environmental Integrity Project analyzed hundreds of state records for the report released Wednesday. In addition to E. coli, which can sicken the swimmers, fishermen and tubers who flock to the river, the report also found elevated levels of phosphorous, which contributes to the growth of algae blooms and low-oxygen "dead zones." READ MORE
November 21, 2016, Lancaster, PA — Pennsylvania poultry experts are planning to work with manure haulers to find ways to cinch up biosecurity.
Pennsylvania’s poultry industry has done a lot of disease response planning, but collaboration with manure haulers has so far been a missing link, said Sherrill Davison, director of the avian pathology lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. READ MORE
Prestage AgEnergy of North Carolina didn’t set out originally to build the largest co-gen plant to run solely on turkey litter. As vice president Michael Pope says, sometimes these things just “kind of evolve.”
Prestage began seriously considering a poultry litter project as far back as 2011. The company put in time doing its homework – and looking at various systems and why certain systems do and don’t work when dealing with poultry.
“Poultry litter doesn’t have the same BTU value as wood. It’s slightly less,” explains Pope. “But because litter is wood-based, it’s a much more traditional fuel source to work with.”
There was also a mandate to utility companies in North Carolina to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy from swine, poultry, wind and solar.
“We started looking at ways to address the mandate to utilities, and also address any potential issues that may come down the road with poultry litter and land application,” says Pope. “Where we’re located – Sampson and Duplin County – there’s a lot of litter that has to be land applied.
In addition, Prestage had successfully used wood chip boilers in the past, and in particular Hurst boilers.
“We’d had great success with their [Hurst] equipment and their products, and that’s part of what led to us collaborating with them on how we could make this work with poultry litter.”
Hurst Boiler, out of Coolidge, Georgia, was also a good choice because of its long history in the energy business. The international manufacturer of a complete line of gas, oil, coal and hybrid biomass fuel-fired steam and hot water boilers has been operating since 1967.
When Prestage initially went to Hurst with its idea, Hurst wasn’t sure if their boilers would handle 100 percent poultry litter, but an unexpected event occurred in Guatemala that would change the course of events.
During a biomass shortage, a Guatemalan poultry company began fueling their Hurst wood chip boiler with chicken litter. As expected, the boiler ran into some issues, but it continued to operate.
“It was a very manual, and very crude process, but it demonstrated that even without treating the litter like we should, these boiler systems could handle poultry litter,” says Pope.
Creating the innovative boiler system for Prestage became a team effort. Hurst made some slight modifications to its system and Prestage made modifications to how it would handle its litter prior to it reaching the boiler. The result was a 1500 HP biomass boiler, the largest in the United States, fueled 100 percent on poultry litter.
To run the boiler 24/7 will require approximately 175 tons of turkey litter per day. Prestage doesn’t see that as a problem. Pope says that not only is the company located in a good area for procuring litter, the industry is expanding in the region.
Crews will go out, as normally scheduled, to approximately 60 turkey farms to do a complete clean out of litter or a “cake” cleaning under the feed and water lines. The litter will be transported back to the facility. And, Pope notes, that although the boiler can run on chicken or turkey litter, the company is currently just focused on turkey litter.
At the Prestage facility, the litter will be brought to a litter building. There the litter will be blended for consistency – nutrient type and moisture content – and then conveyed to the boiler.
“Moisture content is key for utilizing litter in the boiler, and making sure that it gets a fairly consistent product coming in,” says Pope. “Our focus is power production and providing steam for our feed mill to get them off of natural gas. But we’re also focused on using the ash as a fertilizer, as it’s high in phosphorous and potassium.”
Storage is a big piece of the project – both for litter and ash.
While the litter is stored in a large covered facility, the ash will be stored in an enclosed facility because once wet it tends to harden like concrete. The storage space for the ash is large because Prestage anticipates seasonal use by famers.
Prestage doesn’t see itself going into the “Prestage labeled fertilizer bag” business.
“We are teaming up with a very successful regional fertilizer company. We will be using their existing sales channels, and they’re very excited and absolutely believe they can move every ton of ash that we produce.”
The facility will be up and running in December 2016 and Prestage is estimating they will annually produce the equivalent of 95 GWh of power and 9,000 tons of quality ash.
Pope says the nutrient-rich ash product not only gives the company options, but farmers as well.
“The ash can go to fertilizer manufacturers. It can also go straight into field application for the farmers,” says Pope. “That’s nice because a lot of farmers have used poultry litter in land application for their crops, but don’t always get consistent spread and can’t precision farm. So, instead of using litter, they sell us the litter and with the money we put in their pockets, they can take that and buy traditional fertilizer that allows them to precision farm, get better yields on their crops and give the fields exactly what they need.”
The challenges have been exactly what one would expect with a first-of-its-kind system – figuring out exactly what the boiler is capable of, and the make up of the litter to ensure it functions properly and efficiently.
“We’ve learned it’s expensive being innovative. But it’s good, because what it really does at the end of the day is benefit all the poultry growers,” says Pope.
“Growers have to get rid of the litter and land application has been an issue depending on time of the year and the weather. Currently, growers may or may not be able to get the litter out of their houses and land applied. There are certain areas that may be rich in phosphate, where you don’t want to put litter on the ground. Also, farmers never know what the EPA is going to do, and what sort of challenges they may have to face environmentally. What this system does is provide another outlet – a year-round outlet – for poultry growers to send their litter for processing.”
One challenge Prestage didn’t face was finding an experienced crew to run the new facility. An older power plant in the area wasn’t able to successfully complete a conversion from wood chips to poultry litter, and had to shut down. The timing was such that Prestage was able to step in and hire a significant number of people from that facility to operate theirs.
“We’ve got operators experienced in running a power plant and using a wood based product. And they do have some experience from testing poultry litter at their facility. We couldn’t be more blessed,” says Pope. “It was unfortunate that a facility had to close, but we were able to pick up the best of the best to operate this facility.”
Prestage is proud that it hasn’t rushed into this new area, and that it has put in the time and energy to ensure the road it’s taking and the technology sued will be successful.
“Because [Prestage] was new to this arena and because it was all poultry litter, we didn’t want to get out there, fall flat, and it be a failure and a disappointment to the industry,” says Pope. “We want to make sure it works and that it was long-term and that it would create avenues for others or ourselves to expand on what we’re doing.
“We’ve taken our bumps and we got our lumps and bruises, and we know that going forward, we can do this more cost-effectively. I definitely think that this can be replicated at better cost and can provide more benefit to growers and producers in the industry as a whole.”
Does that mean Prestage may build more of these facilities?
“There’s definitely the possibility of putting in additional plants,” says Pope. “We always evaluate what comes along and what makes sense, and we try to stay true to who we are as a company and focus on what we do well. We’re a very successful national pork and poultry company. We’re very good at live production and very good at poultry processing, so getting into power generation and fertilizer production is a new realm, but we’ve got 30-plus years of success behind us and we wouldn’t step out and do these types of things if we weren’t positive we’d be successful
Poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and other areas of the United States and Canada are dealing with added nutrient management regulations on a continuous basis. Insight into best practices in stockpiling and application is critical.
Dr. Peter Tomlinson and agronomy graduate student Barrett Smith are now two years into a large research project evaluating improved storage sites for stockpiling of poultry litter for application to crop land. Dr. Tomlinson has been an assistant professor and extension specialist for environmental quality at Kansas State University since 2011 and his interest in studying manure and nutrient management began during his undergraduate years at the University of Connecticut.
“Poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma continue to face nutrient management regulations,” Dr. Tomlinson notes. “Kansas row crop producers in the southeast corner of the state are looking for cost-effective sources of N, P, and K and have found that poultry litter can cost effective way to meet their P, K and a portion of their N requirements. However, before the litter is applied it must be stored, and stored properly. The keys to a good storage site are that it’s accessible in all-weather conditions, is at least 300 feet away from water, has the ability to exclude extraneous drainage, and has an adequate buffer area before the runoff reaches water.”
This is exactly what Dr. Tomlinson has been studying, and he uses the word “encouraging” to describe his and Smith’s preliminary research findings from the last two years.
“Our initial look at the data is encouraging based on flow-weighted mean concentrations of run-off nutrients,” he explains. “We are in the process of calculating total load losses from the pad and buffer, which will allow us to determine if we are retaining the nutrients lost from the pad in the buffer area.”
From previous research and experience in small feedlot design, a chicken litter storage site evaluation sheet [agronomy.k-state.edu/extension/environmental-quality/poultry_litter/index.html] and improved storage site specifications have been developed by Herschel George – Kansas State Research and Extension watershed specialist – and Dr. Tomlinson, with input from state agency personnel, the Kansas Farm Bureau and local watershed restoration and protection strategy groups. Dr. Tomlinson says the evaluation tool can be used to identify suitable locations for developing an improved storage site as well locating suitable locations for short-term in field storage of poultry litter. The lowest score possible (lowest risk possible of detrimental runoff) is desirable.
The general guidelines for litter storage sites include:
- Elevated earthen pad to eliminate ponding of water at the storage site
- Extraneous drainage diverted around the storage site
- From four- to six-inches of agricultural lime or equivalent added to provide an elevated level pad to store poultry litter
Year-round access to the storage site is also critical, says Dr. Tomlinson.
“In conversations with poultry litter brokers/transporters, they have indicated that they really like good all-weather access of the service entrances. What we mean by ‘all-weather’ access is access from a gravel road whereby a semi-truck with a 40-foot trailer can access the pad, even when weather conditions are rainy and or soil conditions are wet and might cause the semi to get stuck.”
Dr. Tomlinson notes that when the popularity of poultry litter increased in southeastern Kansas because fertilizer prices went up, one of the major issues was fear of getting stuck. He explains that drivers would only back the trailer into the field. By the time they finished off-loading the litter, the end of the pile was near or in the road ditch, and/or the trailer had left ruts where runoff was funneled directly into the ditch.
Dr. Tomlinson adds that producers have found the agricultural lime base of the storage pad is helpful when they are loading the manure for spreading because it gives a visual indicator that they have reach the bottom of the pile.
Farmers also need to exclude extraneous drainage from their poultry litter storage sites by limiting water from a higher landscape position from entering the site, obviously because adding water to the runoff that’s already being filtered through the buffer is not desirable.
“This typically involves constructing an earthen berm, during the pad construction building phase, that directs water that would normally run onto the pad away from, and around, the pad,” Dr. Tomlinson explains. “The other option is to find storage locations sites that are at the top/crest of a landscape position such as the top of a hill. The key here is minimizing the water that has to be treated through the buffer to just that which is coming from the storage pad.”
In terms of best practices in creating a sufficient buffer between the storage area and natural bodies of surface water such as streams, Dr. Tomlinson says the storage site location should be at least 300 feet away. The distance from the pad to the edges of occasionally or frequently-flooded soil should be factored in as well (on the storage site evaluation sheet, the greater the distance, the lower the score).
“We have also given different buffer types different values on the evaluation sheet,” explains Dr. Tomlinson. “Dense grass is a more efficient buffer than crop ground, for example. However, this is coupled with the buffer size calculation. So if you have crop ground present, you can reduce the score (risk) by increasing the buffer size. If the area is limited in size, then establishing a grass buffer would reduce your score.”
The project will be continuing for two more years. Although Dr. Tomlinson has only studied storage of broiler chicken litter, he anticipates that the principles and best management practices would be the same for turkey litter.
Kansas State University Soil Science Professor Dan Sweeney and colleagues have compared the application of fertilizer and turkey litter to sorghum grown in clay pan soils (common in Kansas) and found that application of litter is a viable option. At the eight-leaf stage, there were no significant differences between fertilizer and/or turkey litter treatments.
“I haven’t done any price comparisons,” Dr. Sweeney says. “Pricing can certainly be important to producers, but with swings in fertilizer pricing and maybe litter pricing too, it can vary whether it is a cost savings to use poultry litter or commercial fertilizer.”
However, Dr. Sweeney says applying turkey litter annually to clay pan soils must be done carefully.
“Poultry manure has a greater ratio of P to N in comparison to other manures, so if poultry litter application is based on the crop’s N needs instead of its P needs, P can be greatly over-applied.”
Dr. Sweeney and colleagues have also studied nutrient run-off from application of turkey litter versus fertilizer. He found that run-off rates from fertilizer were usually lower than from N-based, and similar to P-based, turkey litter applications.
“Incorporation of the litter reduced the nutrient losses in runoff, but it didn’t always make any significant difference,” he explains. “Applying a lot of litter will build up soil P levels, and annual P runoff losses can accelerate when soil P values are very high.”
The chicken litter storage site evaluation sheet is available here:
August 17, 2016, Raleigh, NC – A compost barn for North Carolina State University’s Chicken Education Unit, which contained manure from the chicken and turkey coops, caught fire recently.
No animals were harmed and no one was in the building at the time, though the compost barn sustained significant structural damage and will have to be torn down, according to Bill Stevenson, NC State University fire marshall. READ MORE
July 25, 2016 – Irish agri-tech firm BHSL has agreed a $3 million deal with the state of Maryland to trial its manure-fired biomass boilers in the U.S.
One of its patented systems has already shipped, and is due to be fully operational by October, according to the company. READ MORE
In 2005, John McLean went out looking for a digester to handle the chicken litter generated from the 1.6 million broilers raised annually at MAC Farms in Campbellsville, Ky. Unfortunately, McLean was a little ahead of the curve. Emerging digesters couldn’t handle the dry chicken litter.
Technology eventually caught up and around 2010, McLean started communications with Eagle Green Energy and John Logan.
“They’re really the first ones in the country that started using anaerobic digestion on poultry litter for broilers,” McLean says. “There have been some digesters for layers because that manure falls through the grates and has a higher moisture content, but broiler litter has more variables.”
In 2011, McLean officially started his journey toward installing a large-scale anaerobic digester next to his then six chicken houses. Together with Eagle Green Energy, plans were drawn for the plant and the first tank was constructed. However, that’s also when McLean hit the first major obstacle: financing.
McLean had applied for every state and federal grant he could find. In the end, only one grant came through – a $10,000 grant from the state of Kentucky, which was far from covering the cost of the nearly $2 million project.
“What I thought would happen in two years has turned into a six year project,” McLean says. “When we didn’t get the grants we stopped for about a year and then started back up in 2013. I got full financing through Wells Fargo.”
Even though Wells Fargo had never lent money on such a project, McLean said they understood the issue that the East Coast faced of keeping phosphorous from spreading into the waters.
“They have customers dealing with the litter situation, so they were excited about trying this. And they’ve been great to work with.”
If there was a bright side, the permitting took about a year, but went smoothly. MAC Farms needed two permits from the state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): an air quality permit and a waste permit to allow the farm to accept the waste food. The Division of Compliance assisted McLean through the process.
“In Kentucky, the Division of Compliance is basically a liaison between the farmer and the EPA. They help us with the permitting – getting the applications filled out properly, and submitting it to the EPA.”
When the EPA made its visits, Mclean says the system was new to them.
“But, once we walked them through everything, we had tremendous cooperation. They were excited about what we were doing.”
Building the plant
In 2013, McLean and his employees built the bulk of the plant and an electrical contractor was hired, along with other contractors to build some of the new buildings. And in 2014, MAC Farms also added two more boiler houses.
Today, a 270,000-gallon tank (thermophilic anaerobic digester) operates at a high temperature, while the mesophilic anaerobic digester (a three million gallon bladder) operates at a lower temperature.
The two tanks work in conjunction. The mix tank and bladder are heated with a boiler that can use natural gas or biogas. The digester gas, collected in the bladder, is routed to a reciprocating engine to generate electricity. Electricity generated is then fed to the power grid and sold. In fact, the first electricity went onto the grid in October 2015.
“The digester was operating prior to October, but we just weren’t on the grid until then,” McLean explains. “We didn’t run the generator very much until we got everything in line and we had our power purchase agreement.”
The three-way power purchase agreement (PPA) is between MAC Farms, East Kentucky Power and Taylor County RECC (Rural Electric Co-operative). Mac Farms produces the electricity, it goes through the co-op’s lines and out onto the co-op’s grid, and then East Kentucky Power pays MAC Farms.
The road to an efficient and profitable digester has been slow and steady, and part of that is due to the generator.
The generator is producing 250 kW an hour, but it’s capable of 400 kW an hour. More energy will be produced as the farm continues to create contracts with other feedstock providers – primarily food waste companies working to avoid landfills. The companies bring the feedstock by truck or tanker and the material is deposited onto an auger where it’s then taken to the digester.
“We intend to get there [400 kw], but with an anaerobic digester you can’t make big jumps,” McLean explains. “You have to start climbing and multiply the bugs appropriately. In fact, we think we have the capability to double that if we get the appropriate feedstocks.”
The feedstocks do, however, bring their own set of variables. Every day MAC Farms feeds both digesters a base of manure. The feedstocks aren’t consistent like the manure. Temperatures can range from 50ºF to 150ºF, and the amount of solids varies too in the food waste feedstocks.
At the end of the process, MAC Farms spreads the final digestate – a black, thin liquid – on portions of its 750 managed acres. This past November, they spread about a million gallons to have plenty of room in the digester this winter and in the spring they will probably apply an additional one million gallons.
McLean is optimistic that the digestate will have value as an organic fertilizer.
“The phosphorus and the nitrogen are more stable and more consistent than in manure – at least our manure, which can fluctuate depending on how long the litter has been in the house, or whether it’s a complete clean out or if it’s a de-cake. But with digestate, you’ve got a consistent product that’s going to act the same way every time. Also, the digestate breaks down to such a primitive state that it’s completely available to the plant. You’re not getting any waste of your macronutrients and it’s loaded with micronutrients as well.”
McLean sees the digestate product having a broader appeal than to just farmers fertilizing crops. In Europe, the high micronutrient level and microbial activity make it ideal for land reclamation.
Handling the variables
MAC Farms averages about six flocks a year and that requires de-caking or clean out every couple of months. They store the litter and it composts until it’s ready to be used. At the moment, MAC Farms is using about half the litter generated in the boiler houses to feed the digester and the rest is either sold or spread on the farm.
There have been times when they have needed to use all their manure, but McLean says that’s not ideal because they can’t control the moisture content. More solids mean more gas.
“I’d rather have a dry product and then add moisture the way we want to versus putting something in that has a high moisture content and you don’t have any control over it.”
When it comes down to it, McLean says everything about running a digester is dealing with variables.
“In my opinion, there are so many variables in having a successful digester that if you’re not willing to intensively manage them – weather, feed stocks, humidity, solids, pH, machinery issues, and more – it’s not going to work.”
McLean says it’s been a long road with plenty of obstacles and setbacks since they started down this path, but it’s also been an education-filled journey.
“We learn something every day,” he says. He’s speaking for himself and manager Brian Hayes, who has been with McLean for almost 12 years and manages the digester and the chicken houses. “Even when we think we’ve got the tiger by the tail, something crazy happens and we think, wow, that’s a new one on us. It’s just amazing. Again, there are just so many variables.”
The journey may have been rocky, but the future looks bright. As more feedstock contracts are signed, expansion is planned. In fact, McLean has plans to add an additional bladder.
“If I do that, I’m going to stockpile daily our feedstock and then just feed it once. But that’s probably a year or two away.”
McLean says if someone is considering an anaerobic digester they have to be passionate.
“Obviously, it has to make monetary sense, but every system is a little bit different. Because of all the variables, you have to be 100 percent on board for all the right reasons, not just one. It’s like a child. There will be times when it will drive you bonkers, but it also has to be important to you that you’re doing something positive.”
McLean has gotten some kudos for his efforts. He received the 2015 Ag Person of the Year award from the Taylor County Cooperative Extension Service. McLean gives some of the credit to an “old timer” who took him aside when he got into the chicken business in 2003.
“He said, ‘I’m just going to give you one piece of advice, and if you remember this you’ll be okay. People smell with their eyes.’ And we’ve always strived to do that,” McLean says. “We want our neighbors to look at us as an asset.”
March 9, 2016, Salisbury, MD – Calling the Poultry Litter Management Act “a solution in search of a problem,” Delegate Mary Beth Carozza is opposing it because, she said, it would “add another layer of unnecessary regulations.”
The bill would require poultry companies to haul away litter – a mixture of bedding and chicken manure — from the property of farmers who grow chickens for them, if the farmers don’t have plans for that litter. Those plans would have to be approved by the state. READ MORE
February 3, 2016, Annapolis, MD – Small Maryland farms are pleading for relief from the state’s new chicken-poop regulations, saying it’s too much of a burden for them to have to store and dispose of excess waste.
The farmers are chafing against Gov. Larry Hogan’s rules, imposed last year, to cut phosphorous runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. The manure from chicken operations is a major source of that runoff, but small contract farms say they can’t handle the burden and are asking the costs be foisted onto someone else. READ MORE
One of the main challenges posed by the avian flu outbreak that has impacted the U.S. poultry industry in the past year is how to safely and effectively dispose of potentially hundreds of thousands of birds killed as a result of infection and eradication efforts.
“The U.S. strategy is to quickly identify the infected premises, depopulate, properly dispose of carcasses and manure, clean and disinfect the premises, and have 21 days of down time after cleaning before re-population can take place,” said Mohamed El-Gazzar, Ohio State University Extension’s poultry veterinarian. “As you might imagine, the logistics of depopulation and disposal are very challenging, particularly with the large-scale layer complexes, some of which have a capacity of more than 5 million birds.”
While the avian flu outbreak did not impacted Ohio poultry, experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University have been helping poultry producers learn about the disease, boost biosecurity measures on the farm, and prepare to minimize the flu’s impact if it were to reach the state.
To address the challenge of safe disposal in the event of an outbreak, El-Gazzar sought the collaboration of Fred Michel, a biosystems engineer with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center OSU Extension composting specialist. OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the college.
Michel said there are four ways to dispose of such large numbers of dead animals at a time: incineration, onsite burial, landfilling and composting.
“Incineration is difficult and expensive and there is not sufficient capacity,” he said. “Onsite burial is a possibility, but the areas where many Ohio poultry farms are located have high water tables and there may be issues with ground water contamination.
“Landfilling can be effective, but it increases the risk of spreading the disease to other areas during transportation. So, onsite composting seems to be the best option, as it would prevent contamination of water, effectively destroy the pathogen and eliminate the risk of spreading the disease to other farms.”
However, Michel said, there were some issues that needed to be addressed when he started considering a plan for on-farm composting of large numbers of birds.
“Fact sheets on composting birds currently available around the country only address the process of composting a few birds at a time, not the large number involved in a catastrophic event,” he said. “So we had to come up with the right formula and method to make this type of composting work.”
Additionally, composting hundreds of thousands of birds at commercial farms would require a large amount of carbon-rich amendment material, such as sawdust, wood chips, yard trimmings or straw.
“For composting to be done right, you need a carbon-rich, dry feedstock,” Michel said. “Birds are low in carbon and too wet. So an amendment material is needed to compost them.”
For egg-laying operations, Michel designed a slab composting method that includes a one to two foot base of wood chips or mulch, followed by layers of chickens, finished compost and mulch. The top and sides of the slab are covered with amendment material, which insulates the slab and helps prevent leakage and odors.
A pile measuring seven feet high, 100 feet long and 100 feet wide – approximately one-fourth of an acre – would be needed to compost 150,000 birds at the same time, Michel said. Such a pile would require approximately 2,600 cubic yards of amendment material.
“The pile is left without mixing for at least two weeks,” Michel said. “The temperature generated by the composting process will kill the virus. After this, the pile could be left to further degrade or be turned.”
For broilers and turkeys, the method of composting would vary because of different production practices.
“You could just use the bedding material that’s already in the broiler or turkey houses and mix the dead birds in. Then you make a windrow (a long, low heap of composted material) inside the facility,” Michel said.
In addition to developing a spreadsheet for the design of large-scale poultry composting based on the slab method, Michel created an online map that includes the location and contact information for businesses that sell amendment materials. All of this information is available on the Ohio Composting and Manure Management (OCAMM) program’s website, www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/ocamm/.
Mauricio Espinoza is a writer with the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture & Environmental Science
Poultry raised at Wen-Crest Farms grow on a bed of compost that is reused each time a flock moves in and out. The compost is removed once a year and land applied as fertilizer. Photo by Contributed
Ask any poultry or dairy farmer, and they will say that bedding is one of their highest input costs, with kiln dried wood shavings a common choice for both these operations. However, some have found ways to minimize bedding costs, while also making better use of the manure generated by their livestock as organic fertilizer.
Consider the litter management practices at the large, Pennsylvania-based, poultry operation, Wen-Crest Farms. Using wood chips as their litter, they have learned how to repeatedly compost and reuse their litter for an entire year without adding any fresh material. The piling and turning process to create compost takes place right in their barns between the time that their mature broilers rotate out and new chicks are brought in. This practice puts an extra $10,000 in litter savings per flock back into their pocket. Many dairy farms have adopted this same practice, using the compost and reuse method for cow bedding, with similar financial benefits. As far as addressing health concerns, the heat generated in properly composted bedding destroys pathogens, making it safe to reuse.
As if these financial benefits weren’t enough incentive, Wen-Crest Farms then realizes the benefits of using the approximate 2,500 tons of composted litter that the farm accumulates annually as an organic fertilizer on their cropland, which farm co-owner, Steve Wenger, says delivers an additional savings of about $95,000 they don’t have to spend purchasing commercial fertilizer.
So with 11 barns, the poultry farm has saved well over $150,000 a year simply by thinking through the problem and using Mother Nature’s solution for both poultry litter and organic fertilizer.
Coupled with the farm’s practice of leaving buffers around waterways on their 2,500 acres of cropland to minimize the potential for nutrients to leach into watercourses, composting of their mortalities, as well as their practice of leaving some crop for wildlife to feed on in winter, it comes as no surprise that Wen-Crest Farms was recognized for exemplary environmental stewardship this year by the US Poultry & Egg Association.
Wen-Crest Farms is owned by Steve and Bonnie Wenger and is located outside of Lebanon, Penn., about 30 minutes from Hershey. They manage a total of 11 barns on three, closely situated farm sites, capable of housing 370,000 chickens at a time for a total annual production of about two million broilers. They raise the broilers for Tyson Foods and have done so for about six years.
Their home location is where Steve’s grandfather established the family farm in 1944. Raising poultry was a part of that operation but on a much smaller scale. Steve started out in the poultry business in partnership with his father raising turkeys in 1986 with two barns. Over time, the business grew into 11 barns on three locations.
“In 2008, corn prices went through the roof and our company found itself in financial trouble,” Steve says. “Our turkey company was sold to another company, and the buyer also cut turkey production for everybody in this division by half. We decided we weren’t going to hang around for that.”
Tyson Foods arrived on the scene and provided the opportunity to raise chickens instead. The Wengers took advantage of that opportunity and have been raising broilers for Tyson ever since.
When they switched to chickens, they invested about $1.4 million to upgrade and customize their barns, installing the most advanced systems for keeping chickens cool and comfortable, while also adopting their litter composting and reuse method.
Each broiler brood is raised in the barns over about six weeks, followed by two weeks of downtime. During this time, the manure-laden, wood chip litter is piled into windrows using a low-profile poultry tractor, turned twice every three to four days using a LVI litter turner supplied by an American company called Binkley & Hurst LP, placed back into position and pulverized to remove any lumps before a new brood of chicks arrives. The windrows heat up because of the biological activity taking place within the piles between each turning, which essentially is the process of the wood shavings and animal waste being converted into compost. The heat and biological activity destroys pathogens in the litter.
“This composted litter works really well and it is more absorbent than regular wood shavings,” Steve says.
The litter will be piled and turned to produce compost five or six times before it is removed entirely from the barns and replaced with fresh wood shavings once a year.
He says composting the litter is a new practice within the poultry industry, but it is becoming more common all the time.
“There are more and more companies now actually requiring their growers to do it because it saves a lot on wood shavings and trees,” Steve says. Because wood shavings are also commonly used as bedding in the dairy industry, “it’s getting harder to get and much more expensive.”
The litter compost is removed completely from each barn in February and placed in storage in one of three manure storage buildings. They are constructed with concrete slab floors and walls, with a fabric covering them for protection against moisture and to minimize odor. The compost is land applied in spring just prior to planting. While the farm grows soybean, wheat and corn, the compost is applied almost exclusively on their corn ground.
Wen-Crest Farms also has a composting and storage building for its mortalities. The mortalities are mixed and covered with litter. In a matter of two weeks, they have decomposed into compost.
Prior to field application, the compost in each storage facility is tested for its nutrient composition. Soil samples are also taken from each field every two years. Based on these findings, the farm calculates how much compost to apply per acre in the spring.
Wen-Crest Farms avoids winter manure application because of the nitrogen loss that can occur during that time of year and the danger of potential leaching away from the farms into area streams and eventually in the Chesapeake Bay when the snow melts. A number of on-farm initiatives have been launched throughout the Cheseapeake Bay watershed to minimize nutrient leaching from farmland, as this is having a noticeable impact on the health of this area, which is also one of the largest poultry and egg producing regions of the United States.
Manure spreading at Wen-Crest Farms starts about the middle of March. Last spring, the farm made a major investment of more than $100,000 each for two new 9524 Meyers manure spreaders pulled by 350 horsepower, auto-steer, New Holland tractors. The manure application system is controlled by two computer programs in the tractor – a global positioning system (GPS) and speed sensing software. The programs ensure there is no nutrient application overlap in the field and the correct amount of manure is applied per acre based on the application rate punched into the control panel and according to each field’s nutrient management plan, no matter what speed the tractor operator is driving. The GPS software is tied into the tractor’s auto-steer system to avoid overlap. Additionally, mechanisms on the manure spreader have the ability to automatically adjust the application rate based on the tractor’s speed.
Tom Wagner, a precision farming specialist at Messicks Equipment, where Wen-Crest Farms purchased the manure application system, says the farm uses the ISOBUS display supplied by Raven Industries (headquartered in Sioux Falls, SD) and installed in the factory with the tractor.
“With this controller, the operator is able to monitor and adjust the application rate coming out of the spreader,” he says. “Having that control over the application rate system is beneficial because it allows the operator to have equal distribution throughout the entire application, which reduces inconsistencies and allows for a proper manure application.”
He adds that the other benefit of using this type of technology is that the farm can collect data of when they were in the field, what they were spreading, and how much was spread.
A day or two after the manure is applied, Wen-Crest Farms follows up with a Case vertical turbo till system to incorporate the manure into the soil.
“You are not disturbing a lot of the soil, yet you can incorporate that manure into the top two inches of the ground,” Steve says. “This provides odor control because the nitrogen doesn’t volatize and the manure doesn’t leach away. We have zero problems with any neighbors because the manure is incorporated. Prior to incorporation, the manure is kept dry in the buildings.”
The farm is careful about how much phosphorus it applies on its cropland. The application rate is typically about three tons per acre. Because of this control, they still do purchase some commercial fertilizer to fulfill their nitrogen needs.
“We apply based on how much phosphorus we want to put in the soil, and not on the amount of nitrogen,” Steve says. “If I was applying based on the nitrogen needs, I would be way over applying. We have enough land base that we are able to manage it very well.”
They also maintain 30 to 50 foot grass and tree buffers between their cropland and any creeks and streams on their land to avoid nutrient leaching from their land into the water system – something they have done for over a decade.
Michelle and Paul Chesnik are impassioned poultry farmers. They have eight houses on two adjacent pieces of land in Wicomico County, Md. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, on the Delmarva Peninsula. Like many of their fellow farmers, they are facing big changes up ahead, and they’ve decided to do something about it.
The recent implementation of the PMT (phosphorous management tool) restricts the spreading of poultry litter based on the FIV (Fertility Index Value) of the soil. Michelle says it’s anticipated there will be an excess of at least 228,000 tons of poultry litter annually. At least for the short term, Governor Larry Hogan has implement regulatory changes to allow an implementation phase over five to seven years.
“It’s been a bloody battle that I’ve been involved in since 2013, when the legislature tried to push through regulation under an emergency hearing to automatically stop the spread of poultry litter, without a clue as to not only the financial detriment, but also the environmental detriment it would have caused,” she says. “The previous Governor O’Malley’s plan was to stockpile it in undisclosed locations. And the previous Secretary of Agriculture thought it could be used to fertilize the forests in the state parks. Another plan was to have large storage facilities in (again) undisclosed locations until an alternative use could be found.
Looking for answers
The Chesnik farms produce approximately 800 to 1,000 tons of litter each year and like approximately 75 percent of the farms in the area, are considered a “No Land” operation with 27 acres.
“This means that we do not have the land to spread it on and, per our CAFO permits, cannot spread it. We use a small portion to compost our farm mortality, and the rest of the litter is dependent on the Maryland Manure transport program, which is done through a manure broker such as Ellis Farms. Some farmers depend on neighboring farms,” Michelle explains.
This year alone, in the three lower counties on the shore – Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester – because of the implementation of phosphorus risk restrictions, any crop soils that have over a 500 phosphorus Fertility Index Value will not be able to utilize litter, according to Michelle.
“That’s why I’ve been looking for a long time to find alternative technology that would keep the industry viable,” she says. “Not just for my farm, but something that we could do into these densely populated poultry areas on the Delmarva Peninsula.”
The Chesniks saw all types of technology during their search, much of it great, but not ideal for their situations. One system Michelle recalls looked promising. The hitch? All the farms on the peninsula would have to change their bedding from wood to straw.
“We use finely ground pine shavings or sawdust for bedding. We don’t produce much straw around here. Our poultry litter is a combination of manure and shavings, and the moisture content of that is normally around 30 to 35 percent, so whatever system you use is going to have to be able to accept that.”
Luckily, they ran into a small Renewable Oil International (ROI) demonstration. The Maryland company uses a pyrolysis technology different from others. The litter is baked in a thermal processing unit under high heat in air-less containers, reducing the volume by 50 to 60 percent. What remains are three products:
- bio oil, which can be used as an asphalt extender or fuel additive;
- bio char, a charcoal-like product that can improve compost;
- and a synthetic gas
“We process the biomass in less than a second and thermally break it down – vaporize it,” explains Keith Cowin, chief operating officer of ROI. “It doesn’t combust because it’s in a non-oxidizing environment. Then we take that vapor and re-condense it in less than two seconds into about 40 percent bio oil and about 45 percent bio char. A non-condensable gas comes off, and that’s the third product. That gas is combustible and we use that to heat up our process.”
Conversations began between ROI and the Chesniks. Both parties could see the benefits of such technology in the area and that led to a pilot project on the Chesnik’s farm.
To get funds to build the pilot, ROI applied for a state grant with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. In August 2015, ROI was awarded a $1.2 million grant to get the project underway.
Louise Lawrence, resource conservation chief for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, heads up the grant program and is excited to see the pilot up and running. She’s also looking forward to seeing the results.
“It’s a two-year contract, anticipating it will take one year to construct,” she says. “Once it’s operational we look at both the efficiency of the technology, and the results in terms of manure management.
“We also subcontract the Environmental Finance Center to look at our projects and do an economic analysis in a couple veins,” she adds. “One will be to look at, with the state subsidizing the construction of these technologies, what the cost benefit is. Then they will look at what a cost benefit would be if a farmer had to look for outside funding sources, the loans, what the payback period might be, if they would save money on fertilizer inputs or transport inputs if they’re not using the fertilizer and having to haul it some place. And they will look at all the different business components to see how that changes the economics and whether in the end it would pan out for other operations to adopt it on their own.”
Bigger things ahead
Construction will begin soon at the Chesnik farm and, if all goes well, there will be bigger construction ahead.
“The business plan is to move forward with processing units that will handle maybe 30 to 50 farms as opposed to one farm and ROI would have them centrally located in the high density markets,” Keith says.
And although ROI technology can process any carbon-rich material, the company wants to focus on a big need as opposed to being too generalized.
“Right now in the Eastern Shore, there’s a specific need – an enormous amount of biomass sitting there that they really don’t have answers for right now. This gives us a huge opportunity to move in and help convert that into other products.”
One of the benefits of ROI’s technology is that it creates several products with a variety of end users, which ROI is currently developing.
Bio char – Keith says 50 percent of the carbon that’s in chicken litter comes out in bio char, “and that [bio char] is an excellent way of sequestering carbon, because now you’re not throwing it up in the atmosphere; you have carbon in a form you can use.”
The bio char is also absorbent and works well as a fertilizer or a soil amendment for garden centers and landscapers.
Bio oil – The heavy bio oil resulting from the process is used by asphalt manufacturer (in fact one is already on line to take the bio oil from the Chesnik farm.
“The light end we’re actually separating and selling as chemicals,” Keith says. “There are about five or six really valuable ones that we’re pulling off and the balance of the material can be refined back into fuel.
“What we’re trying to do with this pilot is to develop those markets even further and develop contracts and expand on the project of developing a unit that will handle a lot greater volume of the litter and take care of a bigger volume of the excess litter than one farm.”
Learning and profits
Construction will begin soon, with the collaborative efforts of ROI MD technology, engineering firm KCI, the Chesniks, poultry litter broker Ray Ellis, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Once completed, all eyes will be on Chesnik’s farm because it will be a learning tool for many.
The Chesnik farm is a conservation farm – part of the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP).
“My offer to the Maryland Department of Agriculture was to basically keep this unit up here as a learning tool,” says Michelle. “If it works, universities and environmental groups and such can come in and see what we do, how we do it, and learn and see what it does. I think it’s important that both communities – environmental and agriculture – have a meeting place.”
Louise Lawrence says the Maryland Department of Agriculture would like to see this as a tool for other farmers.
“We don’t believe there’s a silver bullet,” she says. “Manure management, because animal production is somewhat concentrated in this country, is a big deal. There is a lot of manure generated and we need to have a lot of opportunities available to help farmers manage it in a way that doesn’t treat it as a waste. If it can’t be used for fertilizer, there needs to be viable ways to use it for other things. We think it’s important to pursue those ways. It could be that there’s a large regional thing, or it could be there’s some smaller farm scale things that work.
“Our view is that it’ll probably be a combination of many of those scales and many technologies. One size does not fit all. It does play into some of the ingenuity of the farm community to adapt to their particular needs or their farm operation, the different things that are out there. So we hope to offer them a menu of things that they can look at, and they can see how well they work and be informed from thereon.”
Pay its own way
But this pilot project is definitely all business.
“We’re doing it as a joint venture with ROI,” Michelle says. “The real hope with this is that there will be a market for the bio char and there will be some income. There has to be some kind of income stream from this in order to put these things up and have them functional on a large scale. You can’t just depend on the state to pay to run them or have a large fee to the growers to run them, that’s why the income stream will be critical.”
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Farm Progress Show 2017Tue Aug 29, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Canada's Outdoor Farm Show 2017Tue Sep 12, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Farm Science Review 2017Tue Sep 19, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
World Dairy Expo 2017Tue Oct 03, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
American Biogas Council Annual Conference & BioCycle REFOR17Mon Oct 16, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM