Chicken Manure Digester Prototype Built in Maryland

MARYLAND, US - A company has developed a process to remove completely phosphates from chicken manure, while generating 26kW of electricity.
calendar icon 25 February 2014
clock icon 6 minute read

The company, based in Berlin, will have a prototype facility up and running by the end of summer at one local chicken farm, according to Delmarva Now.

“I firmly believe if this technology proves out to be what we think it is, it will revolutionise the poultry industry,” said Earl (“Buddy”) Hance, Maryland’s secretary of agriculture, at the groundbreaking on 21 February.

The pilot project from Planet Found Energy Development is located on a chicken farm outside Pocomoke City owned by Jason Lambertson. Methane gas would be extracted from the excrement, then used to power a generator. The facility would process about 1,500 tons of chicken manure to produce 26kW of energy. Mr Lambertson has eight chicken houses and grows about one million chickens a year for Tyson Farms.

A proprietary nutrient-capture system removes the phosphates entirely from the manure, according to Steve Bolgiano, executive director of Planet Found.

“So this whole issue of phosphates, phosphorus-indexes, that argument isn’t going to shift — it’s just going to be obsolete,” he said. “It’s going to be eliminated. What remains is the nitrogen compound that we can give back to Jason, to be able to be put on the farm appropriately, at the right times, in the right places, so it doesn’t have to just get piled up on the field.”

Part of the new phosphorus management tools now under consideration by state officials would limit farmers to using manure on only 15 per cent of their farmland.

Planet Found has plans to build and manage a network of more than 100 such facilities, in hopes of processing all chicken excrement in the state, eliminating it from Maryland waterways. The company says farmers will profit from these facilities with revenue returns from electrical and heat energy.

Here’s how it works: poultry litter is mixed with water to create a slurry. It goes into each of these concrete cylinders, which are wide on the bottom and skinny on top, like a little brown jug. As the slurry is heated, methane gas bubbles up through the water.

Trapping the methane gas in concrete and water makes the process “extremely safe”, according to Mr Bolgiano. “They’ve been doing it like this in Asia for decades. We’ve found their system to be very simple, very safe, very dependable.”

At Lambertson’s farm, reports Delmarva Now, he has cleared out an area about the size of two full-size basketball courts. Bright orange circles have been spray-painted on the flattened rubble to show where the processing units will sit. The quarter-acre of land can hold the main tanks, smaller utility tanks, a mixing tank, an engine room and a nutrient capture area.

The processors are 200 cubic metre tanks, each 29 feet wide and 13 feet tall. On top of those, there will be seven small tanks, forming a chimney, to hold the gas that rises from the digester.

The farmer needs only to drop off the manure with a front-end loader once a day, flip a switch and the filtration system operates itself. Any leftover fibre that remains needs to dry and can be used as phosphate-free manure. It is a closed system, meaning all the water used to create the slurry gets cycled back to repeat the process.

Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays program, said phosphorus rates in Worcester County’s coastal bays, especially Chincoteague Bay, “have gone through the roof” over the past decade.

He told Delmarva Now: “We have a pretty serious problem. Not everyone’s a contributor but poultry waste, obviously, is one of those. If we can get that under control through means like this, keeping it out of the waterways, it’s a huge gain for us. It’s exciting.”­

Lambertson’s family has been farming for about 100 years, first with grain, then poultry since the 1940s. He said Planet Found approached his family about a year ago with the concept.

He said he was sceptical at first “but they supplied me with a lot of answers”­.

“We’re trying to help solve one of the biggest issues farming has to deal with today,” Mr Lambertson said. “We really think we’ve come up with a way to deal with this main phosphorus problem for the bay. It’s nice to have the agricultural and environmental communities working together.”

“I really can’t think of anything negative coming out of this,” he added.

Delmarva Now reports that the facility is being built by Planet Found with private investor money; no public money is involved.

Mr Bolgiano said they have about 10 local investors, and they hope to have this pilot facility completed and operational by late summer. The pilot facility will cost about $700,000 to complete. Future 26-kW facilities, Mr Bolgiano hopes, will end up costing closer to $500,000.

Next, Planet Found plans a scaled-up facility, one to produce 10 times as much electricity as this pilot programme. It does not have to be 10 times larger, though; a future 260-kW facility could fit onto an acre and would cost about three to five times as much as the pilot facility.

Mr Bolgiano said he has been getting steady support from state lawmakers during the last two years.

He said: “They saw this when it was just really on paper, and have made themselves available 100 percent of the time and have been real visionaries in this. When we need to go to Annapolis, they always seem to find the time for us.”

Speaking at the event last week, Maryland Energy Administration Director, Abby Hopper, praised Mr Bolgiano and Planet Found for their perseverance, saying: “I’m impressed. I have a lot of people who come to me with a lot of good ideas and I would say 95 per cent of them don’t get to this point. It’s nice to see it coming to some fruition.”

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