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PA Leads for Manure Technology
PA a Leading State for Manure-to-Energy Technology
Pennsylvania farmers are leading the nation in finding innovative ways to use manure for energy and better control nutrients in their operations.
Pennsylvania and New York are tied for second place in the number of anaerobic digesters in operation, with 22 such projects working on farms. Wisconsin, with 26, leads the nation.
But Pennsylvania also has several gasification plants that burn poultry manure to generate electricity, said Jeffery Porter, an environmental engineer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Pennsylvania is one of the leading manure to energy states,” he said.
A number of factors are driving the interest in manure-to-energy projects, Porter said.
First, farmers are concerned about the relationships with neighbors, so technology that reduces odors is given a closer look, Porter said. Plus, farmers want to be conservation minded in their operations, particularly in “hot spot” areas like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, he said.
“Farmers want to farm, but they want to be environmentally conscious,” he said.
Manure technology is continuing to evolve and research is underway to make projects more affordable for smaller producers, Porter said.
Through grant funding, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will establish a gasification plant on a Pennsylvania poultry operation, Porter said. One of the areas the grant will study is how gasification plants can reduce the volume of nutrients reaching the bay, he said.
Gasification systems will burn off nitrogen in manure, and concentrate phosphorus into smaller and more manageable volumes, Porter said. Ash by-products from the burning can also have beneficial uses, he said.
Final selection on which poultry operation will host the plant is underway.
There is no “silver bullet” solution for manure management on farms, Porter said. For some, gasification systems may be the solution, particularly if the farmer wants to reduce nutrient levels, he said. Others may look to add municipal waste to generate more electricity for a system, Porter said.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest,” he said. “We have a lot of different practices that can be used. It is a question of which tool from the toolbox should be used.”
For farm operations considering adding a manure-to-energy project, Porter offered the following items to consider before moving ahead with a project:
Size and location of the system are important points of consideration. Smaller systems are becoming economical, especially as operators include food waste.
What resource concerns does the farm have? If water quality is a concern, digesters or gasification system could work.
Electricity costs vary by region, so price per kilowatt hour can impact how long it will take for the system to pay back construction costs. “That makes a huge difference on when something will become economical,” he said.
As technology continues to evolve in manure to energy projects, there will be a continued interest from the agriculture sector to make these systems part of their operations, Porter said. Farmers need to be aware that what works on one farm might not work for their own operation, he said.
“The best advice is to make sure you ask a lot of questions,” he said.