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 (Nigeria).
As is the case in so many sectors, egg processing leaves material behind that ends up in the landfill site. But what if the inedible egg leftovers (called slurry or spinnings) could themselves be processed into something valuable? That’s exactly what Perth County Ingredients (PCI) of St. Mary’s, Ont., has accomplished, through upgrading a processing facility and working for a year to work out processing bugs.
Raw materials from local farms, grading stations and egg processors is converted into a high-protein powdered ingredient used in animal feed and pet food manufacturing. “Currently, the demand is very high for this product for the pet food industry and new opportunities are opening up for the future,” says Austin Currah, PCI’s plant and sales manager. “Right now, this product is shipped all over Canada and we have some current interest from Australia and Japan.”
It was 1952 when PCI’s parent company, Vanderpol’s Eggs Limited, decided to get into egg processing. Vanderpol’s established the Perth County plant in St. Mary’s in 1984, where workers use advanced processing and drying technologies to make dried, liquid and frozen egg products. These include standard dried albumen, high-gel albumen, high-whip albumen, standard, dried and free flow yolk, standard, dried and free flow whole egg, spray-dried whole egg and spray-dried high-protein egg product. Plant employees also isolate and extract lysozyme, a natural antimicrobial found in egg white.
PCI ingredients are used in a large range of products in the food, beverage and sports nutrition industries (domestic and international), including baked goods of all kinds, protein drinks, nutrition bars, fish cakes, sausages, pasta, sauces and much more. The company says that its high-quality dried eggs products offer a wide range of
cost-effective advantages in comparison to liquid eggs, related to performance, storage and shelf life.
WASTE TO WONDER
It was in 2011 that Vanderpol Eggs began looking into how inedible spinnings could be converted into a powdered high-protein ingredient (named SD 50% and SD 65%). While staff at Perth County Ingredients re-started a moth-balled facility that had been closed for five years, staff at Vanderpol Eggs did all the research and development on the processing itself. “The St. Mary’s plant is central to several large egg and hatchery operations, so it became a great opportunity, but it took a lot of capital to get the things up and running,” Currah says. “In 2011, we had to get a business plan together and we were able to access some provincial and federal funding to deal with the initial start-up costs. We are always doing testing and continue to work with our current government to get assistance to hopefully help the facility grow.”
The process to make the spinnings product employs high-tech dryers, a pressurized membrane system and modified centrifuge technology. “The main steps include reducing the moisture content and raising the solids of the inedible raw material before the drying process occurs,” Currah explains. “We maximize the dryer performance for maximum throughput.” Challenges in making the process work included fine pits of shell in the finished product and trying to keep the slurry from the different processors at a more constant level. “Overall,” Currah says, “it took about a year of tests and trials to get the protein and fat levels that we are at today.”
The facility started in 2011 with about 15 people and currently employs 31, with plans of an expansion in 2016 that will result in hiring ten more people. Currah says the expansion will involve installing a third dryer capable of drying egg yolk and whole egg for the food industry.
Owners of egg processing and hatchery operations in the area are very pleased about PCI making something out of spinnings. “This material was a big waste for the local egg industry and yes, they are now getting paid for what they use to have to dump or pay to get rid of,” says Currah. “It’s worked out well for everyone.”
For its hard work in developing a new egg industry product and markets PCI won the Premier’s Award for Agri-food Innovation Excellence in late 2015. In Currah’s words, the achievement shows PCI’s commitment to helping the egg industry sustain a great future in southwestern Ontario. “Anytime you can take a waste product and find a use for it,” he says, “is great in the type of economy we have today.”
With a show of hands, about half of those listening to the presentation in Jake Kraayenbrink’s back 40 near Moorefield, Ont., confessed to having a smartphone of some sort.
That means that half of the crowd at that manure management demonstration would instantly be able to pinpoint their location at that particular moment, in that particular field, using the global positioning system (GPS) feature on their smartphone. It also means that they may be only a step away from utilizing precision agriculture to manage their manure.
But what exactly is precision agriculture?
Simply put, it is farming by the inch instead of the acre. It is achieved by using satellite and sensor data in conjunction with computer software to map and manage field data and to generate distinct records for every field of the farm. The goal is to better manage resources.
The most common tool to achieve this is GPS technology, used on field equipment to accurately steer and control applications based on the position of the equipment in the field. Every operation done by the equipment can be mapped and managed as a business management tool.
“It’s pretty cool technology,” Larry Prong, GPS specialist with Premier Equipment in Elmira, Ont., told farmers. “It’s starting to become the norm to sell GPS equipment with new tractors.”
Precision agriculture components typically include a GPS receiver, an in-cab computer display, machine controls for guidance (commonly known as autosteer systems), spray controllers, rate controllers for dry box spreaders and flow meters for manure tankers. Other components may include field scouting devices and desktop geographic information systems (GIS) for data management.
But does precision agriculture technology have an application in manure management?
“Yes,” said Prong. “That’s the purpose of precision agriculture: getting more exact with our field operations and gaining the efficiencies through that.”
Using precision agriculture technology and tools can increase manure placement accuracy and application rates, but then the data can be sent back to the office to map your fields and help to keep good records as well.
When it comes to manure application, the placement accuracy you are looking for is probably six to eight inches, explained Prong. That’s good enough to make sure you don’t have any big skips as you move up and down the field, but make sure that at the same time you are not getting a lot of overlap.
One good example of where GPS accuracy would come into play in nutrient management would be side-dressing liquid manure into standing corn: it’s tricky and there is not a lot of room for error. Corn planted with high accuracy will have bullet-straight rows but, more importantly, you can go back exactly into same wheel track within one inch six or eight weeks later.
It's Just Manure
Some people may say, “But it is just manure, why do we have to record all that data?
As your commercial fertilizer costs go up manure becomes liquid gold, said Prong, and there is tremendous value to what you’re putting on the land. If you’re going to take the time to work with an agronomist, you are expecting a certain yield from your ground and precision agriculture is just another piece of the puzzle.
Another side of the coin is that, unfortunately, manure is regarded as hazardous material. After the Walkerton incident, we need to know where it’s going down as well as setbacks from wellheads and waterways, said Prong. Every time you use a GPS system it provides an audit trail: this is how much I put down and this is where I put it down.
How Much Is Enough?
One of the key pieces of information is the amount of manure you’re putting down, which involves measuring not only amounts but also application rates. This is where a rate controller can be useful.
For solid manure, a rate controller gives you the ability to measure load size under a dry spreader box, measuring change in weight to calculate the application rate. A hydraulic gate valve can then help regulate the amounts going on the field.
Prong said liquid manure measurement requires the use of a flow meter, a common feature nowadays that will measure liquid manure application in gallons per minute from the tanker.
“That’s important in injected manure where you can’t see what’s going in the ground,” he said. “It’s amazing how a change in ground speed can spike your application rates.”
For example, at four miles per hour with a 2,500-gallon-per-acre target flow, 300 gallons per minute will be applied. Keeping the same flow but dropping to three miles per hour, that application rate will now be 3,300 gallons per acre. That’s a 30 per cent increase in application rate just by slowing down, and that decrease in speed can be caused by something as simple as going up a hill.
Premier Equipment has developed a creative solution that integrates an application rate control system with the IVT transmission of many John Deere tractors. As Prong explained, their rate controller actively adjusts the transmission of the tractor to maintain a consistent ground speed, which is highly critical in a dragline scenario for maintaining a consistent application rate.
In precision agriculture, as the technology is used, maps of your fields are created, allowing you to define and record not only where you’re putting down manure but how much you’re putting down. When you need to calculate how much commercial fertilizer to use above and beyond just manure, you’ll have accurate data. “That’s a plus for nutrient management,” said Prong.
Whether you have a GPS in your tractor, carry it in the phone on your belt or take it out on the four-wheeler to chart your fields, you’ll still need software to process and organize the data. The records from the field will also need to be stored and accessible, as you will need to go back and analyze that information over time, both in the short term and over several years.
A number of software products are available, and even more are still in development. Farm Works software has released the Connected Farm app, which runs on iPhones and Android smartphones and allows field scouting with a GPS-enabled smartphone.
Data can be transferred from the tractor using a memory stick, but when you use wireless technology, that transfer can be done while out in the field. As soon as the manure is put down, the data can be sent wirelessly to the office desktop computer and the software will automatically recognize and file it, including the geographical locations in the field.
“Quite a few people haven’t gotten there yet – they’re physically moving their data from the tractor to the desktop, but I think this is the next step in precision agriculture,” said Prong.
Looking to the future, he predicts that the next advancements will be in wireless transmission and software improvements.
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.
The EnergyWorks plant is being built on a site adjacent to four Hillandale Farms egg-laying facilities located within the Susquehanna River basin, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It will produce syngas that will be used as a fuel source to generate steam to drive a turbine to produce just over three megawatts of electric power. The gasification process will also produce between 13,000 and 16,000 tons of ash byproduct annually that will be marketed as an animal feed supplement because of its beneficial mineral content. All told, the process will dispose of about 240 tons of poultry manure per day.
“We felt that manure land application was not the best avenue for a long-term use of manure,” says Ron Ballew, Hillandale Farms environmental manager. “Hillandale, being a progressive company, we were interested in looking at the green way of processing our manure. EnergyWorks seemed to have a plausible alternative to land application with long-term environmental benefits.”
In addition to generating marketable products and providing a long-term manure management solution for Hillandale Farms, it will also eliminate the potential nutrient runoff into the nearby Chesapeake Bay if it had been land applied as has been the conventional practice to this point.
“The water quality environmental benefits from this project are really extraordinary and I think it will demonstrate that, through technology, you can really transform animal agriculture and come up with a much more sustainable approach,” says Patrick Thompson, EnergyWorks CEO. Land-applied manure generated from the area’s agricultural operations is one of the causes of algae growth in the Chesapeake Bay, depleting oxygen in the water and creating marine “dead zones.” Since agriculture is the largest sector of Pennsylvania’s economy, the state is very interested in doing its part to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
However, the benefits of this manure gasifier project extend far beyond renewable energy and water quality. The project will also eliminate an attractive living environment for rodents and insects in manure storage sheds, resulting in greater food safety.
The project will reduce farm ammonia emissions by 50 percent, eliminate over 34,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases annually, reduce manure storage inventories by 97 percent, eliminate manure application on 23,000 acres of land, and achieve 3.5 to 4.4 percent of Pennsylvania’s 2025 goals of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loading to Chesapeake Bay.
As yet another example of how advanced manure management technology delivers not only an environmental dividend but also a financial dividend to the farm, the gasifier simplifies farm operations. The poultry manure processing plant has been designed to process the entire amount of manure generated by the Hillandale egg-laying operation of five-million birds. The plant will provide a complete manure management solution to Hillandale Farms.
About half of the power generated by the plant will be supplied to Hillandale Farms. EnergyWorks will sell the surplus power to the public power grid through an electric distribution utility.
EnergyWorks plans to complete construction of the plant and begin operating by October 2012. The company is finalizing its financing for the project, which includes an investment by EnergyWorks, a federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant, and repayable loans from the State of Pennsylvania.
In addition to marketing electricity and animal feed supplements, EnergyWorks is also actively marketing Nutrient Trading Credits that will be generated once the facility is operational. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has certified the facility as a nutrient credit generator with a projected annual capacity of one million nitrogen credits and 53,000 phosphorus credits, making it Pennsylvania’s largest certified credit generator.
“We are in discussions with several buyers now and there is a lot of interest in purchasing credits from a source like this because the credits that we are producing can be quantified and verified in real time,” says Thompson. “They are derived by measured amounts of nutrients that are kept out of the environment and that is very different from some of the other ways that people generate credits.”
Manure will be trucked on a just-in-time basis from storage facilities at each of Hillandale’s four egg-laying sites to the EnergyWorks plant. The live bottom trucks enter a building where they are scaled and the manure is dropped into a receiving bin below the floor.
“The manure is contained throughout the rest of the process in a closed system, generally at negative pressure to prevent any release of odors or dust to the environment,” says Thompson.
The waste material is just poultry manure, and does not include any other material used for bedding, such as wood chips or peanut husks. Other factors that work in EnergyWorks’ favor are the consistent feed regimen given to the birds by Hillandale Farms and the continuous manure collection system that allows EnergyWorks to retrieve the manure on a just-in-time basis. All these factors are important for the company to operate its gasifier as efficiently as possible and to maintain high and consistent quality in its animal feed supplement product.
From storage, the manure is conveyed into a drying system that aims for about 20 percent moisture content.
“We try to maintain a very consistent moisture level going into the gasification process,” says Thompson. “The more consistent the feedstock going into gasification, the more feasible it is to have a highly controlled gasification process.”
Once dried, the manure is fed into the thermal gasifier. Essentially what happens in the gasifier is that the remaining moisture is evaporated, the organic solids are converted into syngas, and ash containing the minerals is continuously conveyed to storage silos for regular shipments to buyers. The main physical difference with this gasifier compared to other staged combustion systems is that rather than stacking the components vertically as in a single box, the pieces are strung together horizontally to give EnergyWorks better process control.
“We have broken the process into multiple steps and in that way, we are able to use the equipment for each step of the process that is optimized for its function,” says Thompson. “We realized how important it was to control the process in order to control our mineral byproduct.”
The syngas produced by the gasifier is ducted to a thermal oxidizer, where it is ignited and burned. The heat generated from the combustion of the syngas heats water within a heat recovery boiler, providing superheated steam. It drives the power turbine. Some of the steam is also used in the drying system.
The ash is removed continually from the gasifier and placed in storage silos. Combustion gases produced by the process pass through a bag filtration system before being released into the atmosphere.
“We have an air quality permit and we expect this to be a very clean technology,” says Thompson. “The two main culprits of water pollution are nitrogen and phosphorus, and these thermal processes break down the polluting nitrogen compounds in the manure so that you are left with non-polluting nitrogen gas as the main constituent going out the stack. The phosphorus is almost entirely captured in the mineral product.”
He described the facility as more of a biorefinery than simply a renewable energy project because the most valuable commodity produced is not power but the mineral supplement. The world demand for phosphorus and potassium is increasing as the population increases and the demand for animal protein increases, which could lead to scarcity of these minerals. Through its gasification process, EnergyWorks is recovering and recycling these valuable nutrients.
EnergyWorks has more than 15 years’ experience in energy and infrastructure management, having owned and operated numerous energy facilities.
“We have worked extensively with industrial and commercial customers building, owning and operating energy infrastructure,” says Thompson. “In 2006, we began to look at taking this business model to the agricultural sector and building, owning and operating facilities using agricultural biomass as feedstock.” The pollutants are kept out of the environment, which, he adds, is a completely different approach than most manure management systems have taken in the past.
The company began in 1995 as a partnership between San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation and a U.S. utility based in Portland, Ore., called Pacific Corporation. EnergyWorks began with the mission to build, own and operate facilities to distribute energy, working mainly in the international market. Its first project developments took place in Latin America, Brazil and Venezuela. The partnership was later involved in developments in Spain. It was purchased by a Spanish utility in 1999. What followed was considerable growth for the next two years with construction and operation of energy projects in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Spain. A reorganization of the company created an opportunity for a management buyout and it has been operating as a management-owned company since 2001. In 2003, EnergyWorks acquired the energy infrastructure for a large shopping complex in Pennsylvania and currently owns and operates the infrastructure to supply the energy needs of the complex. Since 2006, it has been investigating agricultural biomass and taking its energy business model to the agricultural sector in Pennsylvania.
The Hillandale project represents a template that EnergyWorks believes it can market with other major egg-laying operations.
“We are in discussions with others about similar projects, and we would like to build more of these,” says Thompson. “The market is huge. The egg-producing region mainly follows the grain belt in the United States from Iowa to Pennsylvania.”
In August 2010, British Columbia’s first biodigester began operating in Abbotsford – using, among other substrates, poultry litter. The B.C. government provided $1.5 million to assist in the development of the project (known as “Fraser Valley Biogas”) as a way to go beyond green electricity generation. “B.C.’s Clean Energy Act sets a target to ensure our electricity supply is 93 per cent renewable,” notes Sue Bonnyman, director of generation and regulation electricity policy at B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines. “However, the current low electricity prices, due to B.C.’s very fine hydroelectric system, create challenges for a number of new or renewable technologies.” That’s one reason the province has made it possible for Fraser Valley Biogas to sell “biomethane” to the natural gas company Fortis, instead of using the digester’s biogas to make electricity.
Digester biogas must be “cleaned up” before it’s placed into any natural gas network (the biogas is then known as “biomethane”), and the scrubbing equipment required is costly. “Such a system thus only makes sense at larger-sized projects such as these, of at least one megawatt,” notes Matt Lensink, application manager with PlanET Biogas, the company that built Fraser Valley Biogas. (Another obvious limitation for digesters to sell biomethane is that they must also be located near a natural gas pipeline.) How many tonnes per day of dry or wet manure is required to run a one-megawatt system depends on the type of manure – and the type and amount of off-farm materials.
Fraser Valley Biogas uses liquid dairy cattle manure and solid poultry manure from four nearby farms, as well as a substantial amount of food industry byproduct. As the project is just beginning, Lensink says details are not available about things like how much poultry manure/litter is used per year, what overall percentage of digester feedstock comes from poultry litter, whether it’s placed directly in the digester after barn cleanout, and whether the farmer is compensated for the manure. However, no matter how much or how little manure is used at Fraser Valley Biogas, co-substrates are definitely needed for manure digesters to be economically viable, says CH-4 Biogas Inc. Systems Analyst Claire Allen. CH-Four has created a software program to analyze what amount of a given substrate, such as source-separated organics or fat/oil/grease, is advisable to add to what’s already present in a digester. The company has nine digester systems running in Canada, one in New York State and three more being constructed in Canada; they are all “combined heat & power” (CHP) systems, generating heat and electricity.
Unique to Canada
Fraser Valley Biogas is unique in Canada as an on-farm digester with biomethane being injected into the natural gas network. All others are at municipal sewage plants, landfills or food processing companies. Electrigaz Technologies Inc. president Eric Camirand notes that in Quebec the Ministry of Environment now subsidizes municipal biogas plants up to 66 per cent of capital costs, with the focus on injection of biomethane. Ontario is also looking at this concept; Electrigaz has done several studies for gas companies such as Union and Enbridge on scrubbing biogas and injection biomethane into their networks.
Digesters specifically for poultry litter
Biodigesters that run specifically on poultry manure are being investigated by Anna Crolla, a senior researcher at the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre (located at the University of Guelph’s Alfred campus). The research project is being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Natural Resources Canada-Canmet Energy. The anaerobic digestion process applicable to poultry manure is known as dry fermentation, Crolla explains. “It’s a process that can handle substrates with high solids content, greater than 25 per cent, whereas traditional digesters use wet fermentation with slurries containing solids contents lower than 15 per cent.” Dry fermentation is advantageous, Crolla notes, in that a smaller reactor is required compared to that needed for wet fermentation. The amount of effluent wastewater is lower as well, resulting in significantly reduced manure handling costs.
A dry fermentation digester usually consists of boxes into which the substrate is emptied through the use of wheel-loaders. After the boxes are sealed in an airtight fashion, the anaerobic digestion process begins. About three to four weeks later, most of the digested substrates are removed and the boxes are filled again (for higher efficiency, some of the residual fermented material with high concentrations of bacteria is left in the boxes).
However, there are a number of challenges to making dry fermentation of poultry manure work. Crolla explains that when poultry manure (which is rich in nitrogen) is anaerobically digested, the high solids content causes ammonia to accumulate, which slows the digestion down (and production of biogas) down. One way of dealing with this is co-digesting the poultry manure with carbon-rich substrates to increase the C:N ratio, so Crolla is studying how the addition of energy crops works to boost performance of a dry fermentation digester. “The energy crops that we’re studying will include corn silage, corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass (non-leguminous) and, clover, alfalfa and soybean silages (leguminous),” Crolla notes. She began work on evaluating optimal C:N ratios, pH and moisture content, as well as studying the effects of ammonia accumulation on substrate digestibility, in September 2011.
Bench-scale digesters will be built this coming summer.
Another project in B.C.?
A major developer, builder, owner and operator of electrical power plants fuelled by poultry litter and other agricultural biomass is currently eyeing the Fraser Valley for a possible project. Pennsylvania-based Fibrowatt was founded in 2000 by the management team that built the world’s first three poultry- litter-fuelled power plants in the U.K. in the 1990s. These plants have converted more than seven million tons of poultry litter into more than four million megawatt-hours of electricity (serving about 150,000 homes) and 500,000 tons of ash fertilizer.
In 2007, Fibrowatt built the United States’ first poultry- litter-fuelled (about 50/50 chicken and turkey) power plant in Minnesota, a 55-MW facility that serves about 40,000 homes. The poultry litter is purchased from surrounding farms through long-term contracts and spot purchases, transported in tightly covered trucks and stored at negative pressure to prevent the escape of odours. Inside the power plant, the litter is burned at very high temperatures, heating water in a boiler to produce steam that drives a turbine. A large amount of ash is also produced.
“We sell 90 000 to 100 000 tons of ash a year to a fertilizer company,” says Jim Potter, president and COO of parent company Homeland Renewable Energy Inc. “The rating of the ash is 0-7-7 for NPK, as all the nitrogen in the litter is combusted into N2 gas.” (Note that by-products other than biogas that are created in Canadian digesters are also being used; the effluent is spread on fields, and the solids from the digester tank are used as cattle bedding.)
Will it work in Canada?
Although low electricity prices in B.C. pose a challenge to any Fibrowatt facility moving forward in that province, Potter says, “We hope that people will place a premium on the other services a project such as this can provide. Our plants offer an environmentally responsible and useful outlet for poultry litter in regions that produce more litter than can be utilized for land application. This enhances the sustainability of the poultry industry.” Fibrowatt is also pursuing projects in areas of the U.S. where excess nitrogen and phosphorus is being released into water sources, such as Chesapeake Bay.
Mar. 8, 2012 - Many poultry farmers, most of them with free range or aviary houses, would like to reduce the litter level and improve its quality in their houses.
Jansen Poultry has found a solution and developed a mechanical Litter Removal System.
When using this system:
- Litter level in the house can be kept in check
- Litter is mechanically removed
- Dust and ammonia levels are considerably reduced
How does the system work?
In the walkways of the house, a revolving steel cable with a scraper attached every ± 4m is installed. The back-and-forth movements of the scrapers move the litter to the back of the house.
During the cleaning of the house, the cable with scrapers can be removed so the system does not interfere with the cleaning process.
For more information, please contact your local Jansen Poultry Equipment dealer or http://www.jpe.org/.
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