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Agricultural Solutions for runoff, nutrients and water quality — Number 4

In the magazine SOIL published by Forester Magazines, there was an article in the June 29, 2017 issue.  The article discusses how the agricultural community is helping protect water quality through different grants, partnerships and on-farm actions.

 

This is the second section from the article titled Agricultural Solutions: The connection between nutrients, runoff and water quality.  This section of the article (copied below) is titled “Poultry Powers Up the Farm“.

[From SOIL, FORESTERMAGAZINES, June 29, 2017 issue (http://foresternetwork.com/erosion-control-magazine/ec-soil/ec-erosion-control-permitting/agricultural-solutions/)]

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Poultry Powers Up the Farm
One recipient of the AWTF grants who has been through the trials and tribulations of “getting it right” now reports his project as a benchmark success and first of its kind in the US. After a career with the local power company, Maryland eastern shore resident Bob Murphy decided to enter farming as a “retirement vocation.” He says he had an opportunity to purchase nearby family farm property, and he then erected a chicken house to enter the poultry business. It wasn’t long before he acquired more land and built more houses—and all the while the poultry litter was piling up.

“I realized we had to find a way to do something that was more than a band-aid solution with this manure. The state nutrient management requirements were increasingly tighter on phosphorous, so it was clear that we had to put a plan in place to take care of the problem differently. Even though we were disposing of it, and it was being hauled away in trucks, I could foresee the day when that would not be a long-term solution.”

Enter the innovators of BHSL Energy Centre, whose Limerick, Ireland-based company had developed a technology that made good use of the litter by burning it and converting it to energy.

Managing director Declan O’Connor says the idea came from his own family poultry business. “We had been in poultry farming since 1962, and then in the mid 1990s the Ireland EPA said you can no longer spread manure like you once did. The watersheds couldn’t support the contamination, and this suddenly became a huge problem as we had to ship it two hours away to comply with nutrient management regulations.”

O’Connor says his brother Jack, then a schoolteacher, worked with the University of Limerick and investigated the potential of a technology that would burn the litter through a novel combustion process. After years of family investment and manufacturing trials to perfect the process, they put a prototype on Jack’s farm, and then on other farms.

“At first we created hot water to heat the chicken sheds, but today we are installing heat and power systems that both heat and power the poultry operation. But just as we thought we were launched on our commercial journey, the UK environmental people said, ‘This is a waste product—you have to abide by waste regulations.’ We explained that in Ireland it falls under animal regulation, and large centralized power plants were never going to be able to work on this small scale.”

Working with the European Union (EU), O’Connor says, they were able to help write new rules that were adopted into EU policy that would protect animals, humans, and the environment. Next, after attending a manure energy summit in the US, O’Connor saw the application of his technology in meeting several challenges of the large-scale US poultry operations: litter disposal, power, and nutrient management.

“Our farms are quite small by comparison; we have 20,000 birds, whereas Murphy in Maryland has 160,000 birds,” says O’Connor.

When BHSL invited US senators from Maryland to visit Ireland and observe the process in action in 2011, O’Connor says, the ball got rolling in their favor. “They were very excited and said, ‘We’ve seen the future; we need to bring this to Maryland,’ and the rest is history. The BHSL Energy Centre then became a candidate for development and onsite testing with the Animal Waste program.”

Murphy confirms that things weren’t perfect out the gate, and that it took a few months before the process worked out all the kinks. “But I kept telling everyone who was negative about this working that I knew it would work. We had a grant of about a million dollars, and BHSL had sunk their own $3 million into it, and I said we’re going to prove to the state that this works.”

After the litter is collected in a tank, O’Connor says, it goes through a burning process run by diesel fuel that superheats the product. Hot gases from the closed burning unit rise through negative pressure and are pulled across a heat exchanger that heats water. The superheated litter reduces to just 8% ash, and the ash particles are collected as a valuable PNK product to augment fertilizers.

By heating the poultry houses with the radiator-style hot water system, with fans blowing across the pipes to deliver hot, dry air to the birds, “the humidity is vastly reduced, and this also reduces ammonia and contributes to a healthier flock and higher production,” says Murphy.

BHSL reports that the more than one billion chickens produced in the eastern shore region—representing 12% of US poultry production—generate 1.2 million tons of ­poultry manure. After decades of manure spreading, the fields surrounding the Chesapeake Bay are now overloaded with phosphorous.

BHSL’s is the only technology that meets both US and EU environmental regulations. The developers anticipate that the success of this pilot project in Maryland will pave the way for future installations. And Murphy likes to amaze visitors. “I’ve had people come out here to see the operation and they are blown away. I’ve told others to stop trying to fight the manure problem and get on board—this is the answer,” he affirms.

Lawrence adds the process doesn’t get rid of the nutrients, “but what it does, is manage them so it becomes a discrete energy development process.”

O’Connor says, “Every 1,000 birds will leave behind 1.2 tons of manure. This translates to each bird producing enough litter to convert to keep three birds warm, and ­protecting the environment in the bargain.”