Promising Pilot Program in Dorchester Turns Chicken Manure Into Energy

A Bay Journal article (2017-02-09) discussed a pilot program in Dorchester County that is turning poultry manure into energy. The disposal of poultry waste has long posed a challenge to the Eastern Shore’s chicken industry. A primary disposal method in the past was to spread the manure on nearby farmland but that practice has resulted in many fields becoming overloaded with phosphorus, which threatens the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways.

The pilot program in Dorchester features a $3 million dollar system installed in two poultry houses on Brad Murphy’s “Double Trouble” farm by the Irish firm BHSL. The State committed $1 million to the project. From the article:

The [BHSL] system curtails the ammonia fumes that not only make poultry houses stink, but compromise the birds’ health. It also can give farmers a financial boost — they can avoid paying for propane to heat the houses, and even make a little income from selling excess energy generated by the system that’s fed into the electric grid.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has committed nearly $3.8 million to try out a variety of manure-to-energy projects, $1 million of which went to the Double Trouble project. It’s the largest investment made by any Chesapeake Bay watershed state toward finding alternative uses for the massive amounts of animal waste generated by poultry, dairy and other livestock farms.

On a visit to the farm Feb. 13, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan praised the Murphys for “leading the way for farmers to improve water quality, increase energy independence, and improve animal waste management to ensure the sustainability of animal agriculture in our state.”

The article explained how manure-to-energy research is being supported by Maryland, nearby states, and the federal government. The article noted that the BHSL system appeared to be one of the more promising technologies for reducing both phosphorus overload in soils and ammonia in air emissions:

 [Because of soil phosphorus build up], manure-to-energy projects have attracted state and federal officials. Virginia and Pennsylvania are also funding similar pilot projects. But the BHSL system is the only one determined by an independent analysis to lower air emissions while also keeping phosphorus out of the water, said Kristen Hughes Evans, executive director of Sustainable Chesapeake. The nonprofit group is coordinating the manure-to-energy initiative for the Bay watershed states. …

In a tightly controlled experiment, two of Murphy’s chicken houses are using traditional propane heat, and the manure the birds produce is cleaned out every six to eight weeks and hauled away to area farms for fertilizer. But in the other two, the poultry litter — a mixture of manure and wood shavings — is kept on site and burned to generate heat and electricity. The University of Maryland is tracking the data. …

In 2011, the Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored a manure-to-energy summit in Maryland to discuss the potential of new technologies. A representative from BHSL was there, and he later invited members of the tri-state legislative advisory body to see a plant in England. Several Maryland policy-makers made the trip, including Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton.

“It has huge, huge potential,” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who is the Maryland Senate’s only full-time farmer, said of [BHSL’s] system. “And these are very dedicated people.”

According to the article, the BHSL system generates approximately 1 ton of phosphorus rich ash based on 10 tons of poultry manure. Besides being much easier to transport than the unprocessed manure, the ash has potential as a fertilizer product that can be used elsewhere. The cost of the system does remain a challenge, but the article noted that cost could come down significantly if its components could be manufactured locally instead of overseas.

Useful Links

BHSL Website

Maryland Department of Agriculture Website