Click here to read Part 1: Turning Liquid Gold Into Green Energy
A different approach in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah
At the end of November 2018, Smithfield announced expansion of a similar, but separate project with Dominion Energy called Align Renewable Natural Gas.
In November 2018, Smithfield announced expansion of a similar, but separate project with Dominion Energy called Align Renewable Natural Gas.
The expansion will allow Smithfield to work with contract farmers to convert existing anaerobic treatment lagoons to covered digesters or construct new covered digesters to capture biogas, which will then be transported to central processing facilities to be converted into RNG.
The project is expanding to two larger farm clusters in Duplin and Sampson Counties, N.C. Projects will also take place in Waverly, Va., and Milford, Utah. Construction of these facilities is expected to begin in late 2018 with the first projects scheduled to be operational in 2019.
In Utah, Smithfield is building 26 brand-new hog farms with covered lagoons that are designed specifically for anaerobic digestion. The facilities will consist of in-ground digesters to collect biogas from the manure. Smithfield is constructing the farms, which will be owned and operated by contract growers.
In 10 years, in addition to projects in Virginia, Smithfield says more than 90% of their company-owned and contract hog finishing spaces in North Carolina and Utah will be able to produce RNG.
The Benefits Compound
Although there are economical benefits for biogas collection and refinery, Westerbreek says, Smithfield declined to offer proprietary pricing information.
The tangible farm benefits, however, are clear: less water collection in manure equals less land-application of manure liquids and an additional revenue stream to the farm. The effort would also help mitigate potential environmental stressors, such as hurricanes and severe rain events, and reduce the national dependence on fossil fuels.
From Pigs To Pollinators
Unlikely allies, Smithfield, the Environmental Defense Fund and RAE, have partnered on another component of Smithfield’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
Smithfield has invested $300,000 to create 1,000 acres of native prairie habitat for pollinators such as monarch butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife on highly erodible and riparian areas. Native grasses and cover crops could also be a potential feedstock for biofuels.
“When we look at the project we had going in northern Missouri, there are times in the winter when biogas production is down or when there’s not as many animals. We’ve been toying with the idea of using prairie grass or cover crops to supplement the hog manure in making biogas. So, here’s an opportunity to do all the above,” Westerbeek says.
Ideally the project will add additional environmental benefits, such as natural water filtration on highly erodible lands, increase plant’s natural environmental cooling effects and more.
“Every acre contributes to our environment,” says Roeslein, who has test plots of a variety of cover crops, wheat and other small grains on his own farm in northern Missouri. His vision—reduce climate change by sequestering carbon back into the vegetation and soil, as well as creating a revenue-incentive for long-term native prairie and cover crop establishments that rival traditional farming practices.
“I told Smithfield I don’t want to deal with manure only—I’d like to experiment with using native grasses and cover crops to augment the manure we have. I want to provide ecological services that have greater benefits than just removing methane from the atmosphere. I want to sequester carbon back into the ground and keep nutrients from flowing into our streams and rivers.”
So far, Smithfield has planted more than 600 acres of native prairieland, including native milkweed and wildflowers around their hog facilities in Missouri. Another 400 acres are committed to be planted in 2019.
Prairie is both an environmental and economic force, Westerbeek says. Not only does it protect the environment surrounding farms, but it also creates a new revenue opportunity as an alternative source of clean, renewable energy.
“Right now we have a market for the gas. We need a market for the nutrients. We need a market for cleaning up our water, instead of spending billions of dollars on water treatment facilities and still having difficulty with nitrates,” Roeslein says. “We need to give farmers an incentive to do it before it gets to our water purification system and we have issues with hypoxia in our rivers and oceans.”