Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative in the Chesapeake Region Report January 2016

From 2012-2015, the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative conducted a study of thermal, farm-scale systems that produce energy from poultry litter. The technologies were installed on working farms in the Chesapeake region, in places where manure management is especially important for protecting water quality. The technologies were evaluated for technical, environmental, and financial performance. This report details the findings.

Download the full report and appendices. (252 pages; PDF)

Download a section of the report:

  1. Executive Summary (6 pages)
  2. Main Body of the Report (26 pages)
  • Background and Objectives
  • Process: Getting Projects on the Ground
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Summary of Results
  • Fertility Value and Market Potential of Poultry Litter Co-Products
  • Summary of Lessons Learned
  • Communicating Results
  • Summary and Next Steps
  1. Appendix A: Technical Performance Global Re-Fuel
  2. Appendix B: Technical Performance Ecoremedy ® Gasifier
  3. Appendix C: Technical Performance LEI Bio-Burner 500
  4. Appendix D: Technical Performance Total Energy Blue Flame Boiler
  5. Appendix E: Air Emissions and Permit Compliance
  6. Appendix F: Nutrient Availability from Poultry Litter Co-Products
  7. Appendix G: Nutrient Balance: Fate of Nitrogen and Phosphorus Nutrients
  8. Appendix H: Financial Assessment of the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative
  9. Appendix I: North Carolina State University’s Pyrolysis Technology

Blue Flame Boiler on Windview Farm in Snyder County, Pennsylvania

The Blue Flame boiler was installed by Total Energy Solutions on Windview Farm in Snyder County, PA, in 2015 as a demonstration project for the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative. This technology has the longest track record for using poultry litter as a fuel in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The boiler installed in 2015 was designed to deliver 1.5 to 2.0 MBtu/hr of heat to poultry housing via hot water. It replaced an earlier Blue Flame boiler that had been running on the farm for several years and improved the hot water distribution system.

The Farm

Windview Farm, owned by Mac Curtis, produces antibiotic-free broiler chickens. Since 2010, he has been using a boiler manufactured by Blue Flame to generate heat from the 400 tons of poultry litter that are produced on the farm every year.

Performance Evaluation

The Blue Flame boiler was evaluated for technical, environmental, and financial performance. An overview of the findings is available in the main body of the 2016 Final Report. Details are in Appendix D.

The report includes an evaluation of air emissions from this and other systems, as well as the potential for transporting and marketing the ash co-product as a crop fertilizer.

Related: Introduction to Thermal Technologies…

More Manure-Based Energy Case Studies


Farm Manure Energy Initiative logoThis case study was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Weaver Farm, Pendleton County, West Virginia

The Farm

Mike Weaver grows broiler chickens in two poultry houses that are retrofitted with energy efficiency improvements. His farm includes a pond, 80 acres of pastures, and upland wildlife habitat conservation. The farm produces approximately 300 tons of excess litter every year that is stored in the covered litter shed and sold off of the farm.

The Goal

Use thermal manure-based energy to heat two poultry houses and greatly reduce or completely eliminate the use of propane.

The Technology

A Wayne Combustion Litter Furnace (PLF-500) was installed and began operating in the spring of 2014. Mike uses the PLF-500 to provide heat to the two poultry houses and for preheating houses before birds are placed.

Related: Introduction to Thermal Technologies…

Performance Evaluation

Comprehensive performance data — including heat delivery, financial feasibility, and environmental performance — are being collected over the 2014/15 heating season. Results from the performance evaluation will be posted to this website when they are available.

Ash generated by the unit is being evaluated as a replacement for phosphorus fertilizer in field trials conducted by Virginia Tech Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

More Manure-Based Energy Case Studies


This case study was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Global Re-Fuel Furnace on Rohrer Farm, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Weaver Farm, Pendleton County, West Virginia

The Technology

The Global Re-Fuel furnace (PLF-500) by Wayne Combustion Systems was installed on two farms in 2014 as demonstration projects for the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative. The furnace uses poultry litter as a fuel and was designed to deliver heat via hot air to poultry housing.

The Farms

Mark Rohrer’s poultry houses in Lancaster County, PA, are on land that has been farmed by his family for generations. Mr. Rohrer owns two broiler houses with a solar panel array to offset the poultry operation’s electricity usage. He purchases propane independently and, except for a modest contribution from the integrator, pays for heating out-of-pocket. (See upper slideshow)

Mike Weaver grows broiler chickens in two poultry houses in Pendleton County, WV, that are retrofitted with energy efficiency improvements. His farm includes a pond, 80 acres of pastures, and upland wildlife habitat conservation. The farm produces approximately 300 tons of excess litter every year that are stored in the covered litter shed and sold off of the farm. (See lower slideshow)

Performance Evaluation

The Global Re-Fuel combustion system was evaluated for technical, environmental, and financial performance. An overview of the findings is available in the main body of the 2016 Final Report. Details are in Appendix A.

The report includes an evaluation of air emissions from three thermal manure-to-energy systems, as well as the potential for transporting and marketing the ash co-product as a crop fertilizer.

Related: Introduction to Thermal Technologies…

More Manure-Based Energy Case Studies


Farm Manure Energy Initiative logoThis case study was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Start-Up Questions and Considerations for Manure-to-Energy Projects

Thermal, manure-to-energy systems have great potential to benefit both farms and the environment, but they are still relatively new. The technology comes with many variations, some of which are still in development. Existing commercial products have not been on the market for long, and long-term performance data from systems that have been in continuous operation in a farm-setting is currently not available.

Still, progressive farmers and manufacturers have found success with manure-to-energy systems that are well-matched to the farms they serve. Asking good questions early in the process is key to finding smart solutions for three important goals: manure management, financial savings, and environmental stewardship. Related: For information on other types of technologies, visit the manure treatment technologies home page.

Questions to Ask About Your Farm

1. How much manure or poultry litter is available for use as fuel?

Many farms use manure and poultry litter nutrients as fertilizer. If your farm produces more manure or poultry litter than needed for use as a fertilizer, this surplus material may be available for use as a fuel.

The amount of fuel you’ll need to make the system cost-effective depends on your goals and the type of system you install — but the maximum size of the system will be defined in part by the amount of manure or poultry litter available to feed it.

2. How much energy do you want — or need — to produce?

The best way to get an accurate sense of your farm’s energy needs is to conduct an on-farm energy audit. An audit will outline your farm’s energy needs and identify low-cost opportunities to conserve energy. This will help you select an on-farm energy system that is truly matched to your farm’s needs.

On some farms, conserving energy may save more money than installing and operating a manure-to-energy system. If you decide to install a manure-to-energy system, conserving energy first can reduce the size the system and the start-up costs that go with it.

Contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to ask about cost-share funds that support on-farm energy audits.

3. Thermal systems work best with drier feedstocks. Is your farm’s manure or poultry litter dry enough for the system to work efficiently?

Most thermal technologies proposed for use at the farm scale perform best if the manure or poultry litter contains less than 35% moisture. Because of this, thermal systems are typically fed by drier manure from beef cattle feedlots and poultry litter.

The drier the manure, the better your thermal system will operate. Manure storage facilities can have a big impact on moisture content. Consider this issue yourself, and then follow up with vendors as you select a system. Ideally, the vendor will be able to test the proposed system using manure or poultry litter from your farm prior to purchase.

4. How will you handle the ash and bio-char co-products produced by the system?

Thermal processes that produce energy from manure and poultry litter also generate co-products that contain valuable plant nutrients. Combustion and gasification create ash, and pyrolysis creates biochar. In some cases, these materials can retain high temperatures when they exit thermal manure-to-energy systems and may need special storage facilities to protect farm staff and surrounding structures and allow the material to cool prior to transport.

Studies have taken place to determine how well plants can take up the nutrients in these co-products. The plant availability of phosphorus and potash ranges from 80 to almost 100%, depending on the type of technology that produces it.

It is important to consider the fate of the ash and biochar co-products, and ideally to have a market established for these materials in advance of installing the technology on your farm. Questions to consider include: How will you manage the co-product? Would you like to sell it yourself or through a partnership with the technology vendor? Is the potential revenue stream from the co-product needed to obtain a return on your investment?

5. For contract growers, is the integrator supportive?

Poultry growers who have contracts with integrators should confirm that the integrator is supportive of the project, especially if the project will provide heat to poultry houses. Give special attention to these questions:

  • If the integrator pays all or some portion of the propane costs, are they willing to pass the cost savings onto the grower?
  • Will an alternative heating system impact the settlement calculation (that is, the amount the grower gets paid for the birds)? In some cases, this payment is based on the farm’s production costs — including propane use — compared to other growers in the region.

6. Are you comfortable with the estimated, long-term costs for operation and maintenance?

On-farm thermal energy systems require significantly more time and maintenance than propane heating systems typically used in animal housing. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service technical standards, you should expect an equipment lifespan of approximately ten years.

Recognize that you will have operating and maintenance costs, and ask vendors to provide detailed estimates.

7. Are grants or loans available to support your start-up costs?

In some states, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers a cost-share program for on-farm thermal systems fueled by manure.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland has developed a guide that includes state and federal financing opportunities.

Questions to ask about: your farm | permitting | the technology

Questions to Ask About Permitting

1. What is the general status of permitting requirements?

On-farm thermal systems may need to meet both federal and state permitting requirements related to air quality. The requirements for your project depend on the type of technology and size of the system. Keep in mind that these systems are new to permitting agencies as well as the farmers who want to use them — the rules vary and some are still being developed. Check on the specific rules that apply to your location and ask about the questions that are still being explored.

2. Will federal air quality permits apply to my system?

Federal air permitting rules for on-farm installations largely depend on whether manure or poultry litter proposed for fuel meets the EPA’s fuel legitimacy criteria.

Combustion of fuels in on-farm thermal systems using hot water to deliver heat usually falls under the EPA’s Boiler MACT rules. Depending on the size of the system, you may be required to notify the EPA and/or your state air permitting agency that the technology will be installed and submit biennial reports documenting that the equipment has been tuned-up at least once every two years.

If your manure or poultry litter does not meet the EPA’s legitimacy criteria, it will be considered waste instead of fuel. Combustion of waste is categorized as incineration. Federal permitting requirements for incinerators are not cost-effective or technically feasible for farm-scale systems. This makes it very important to ensure that your project meets the fuel legitimacy criteria before moving forward with installation.

Determining fuel legitimacy may be easier if you propose an on-farm thermal system that will capture energy only from manure or poultry litter produced on the farm. Under these conditions, you can make a fuel legitimacy determination through a “self-determination” process, without seeking federal or state approval. However, farmers using self-determination to meet fuel legitimacy standards should keep records justifying their decision.

The Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative partners worked directly with the EPA and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to develop a checklist that can help determine whether your manure and poultry litter meets the EPA’s fuel legitimacy criteria. This is not an official EPA guidance document and should not be viewed as legal guidance, but it’s a good place to start. View the checklist….

Contact your state air permitting agency or your regional EPA non-hazardous secondary materials or air permitting office for more information about the fuel legitimacy process, farmer self-determination, and ensuring that your farm is in compliance with federal rules. Visit the EPA’s Boiler Compliance at Area Sources website for helpful information.

3. Will state or local permits apply to my system?

State and local governments may also require permits for on-farm thermal systems. These could address issues such as air emissions, fate of the ash or biochar, construction, or zoning.

The requirements may vary significantly from one place to another. Check on state and local permitting requirements early in your planning process.

Questions to ask about: your farm | permitting | the technology

Questions to Ask About the Technology

1. Has the vendor’s technology actually been used on a farm using manure or poultry litter as a feedstock, operating at its full commercial size?

Farms are unique environments and technologies developed for other industries do not always perform well in farm settings. Vendors of wood-fired boilers may claim their systems can use manure or poultry litter as feedstock, but be wary of these claims. Ask if the system has actually been in operation, fueled by manure or poultry litter, over an extended period of time. If so, ask for a site visit to see the system in operation. Ask if you can speak to other farmers who are using the technology.

2. Is the amount and composition of manure or poultry litter from your farm compatible with the proposed system?

Ask the vendor to define the amount of manure or poultry that will be needed to run the proposed system on an annual basis. Be sure that the amount of excess litter from your farm can meet system requirements.

Manure and poultry litter also vary considerably from farm to farm. This variability can cause fuel handling and performance issues. For example, the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative has encountered differences between turkey and broiler chickens that impacted performance. Moisture content also plays a role.

To avoid surprises, ask the vendor to test your farm’s manure or poultry litter for compatibility with the proposed system. Some vendors routinely do this at their manufacturing facility. If this is not an option, take the time to locate existing installations that use manure or poultry litter as a fuel. Analyze differences between the manure or poultry litter from the sample sites and that from your own farm; ask the vendor to help evaluate whether or not those differences — such as particle size or moisture content — might impact system performance.

A company with a track record for on-farm deployment using manure and/or poultry litter from a variety of operations will have a much greater chance of success than a company with no on-farm experience or history using manure or poultry litter as a feedstock.

3. What infrastructure and space is required to install the system and any associated manure storage facilities?

Your manure-to-energy system will require a roofed shelter for the thermal equipment. The shelter can be completely enclosed or open on the sides, depending on the vendor’s requirements, the local weather, and the farmer’s preference. You will also need a power supply for the system and potentially running water.

The smallest footprint for broiler farms in the Manure-to-Energy Initiative is roughly 30 feet by 30 feet, while footprints for larger installations can be in the range of 60 feet by 60 feet. Much larger systems have been developed for other types of farms and cooperatives. Space requirements depend on the size of the equipment, which in turn depends on the output capacity, as well as whether the system is producing heat, electricity, or both.

You will also need covered storage for the manure or poultry litter to ensure that fuel fed to the thermal system is dry. Ideally, the storage structure should meet NRCS technical standards.

Locating the thermal equipment as close to the storage area as possible will reduce the time needed for hauling manure or poultry litter to the system. However, the location of the thermal system should also be balanced with the distance to the poultry houses so that installing plumbing duct work is not too costly. Thermal systems that deliver heat via hot water offer the most flexibility with respect to location, while thermal systems that deliver heat via hot air will need to be located as close to the heated buildings as possible.

Depending on the system and the farm layout, it may be possible to install the system in an existing manure or poultry litter storage facility. The technology vendor can help you determine if this is an option. However, if the poultry litter or manure storage facility was paid for with state or federal cost-share funds, it is important to confirm with your funding agency that locating manure-to-energy equipment in the facility does not violate terms of the contract.

If the thermal system structure is located a long distance from the farm’s main poultry litter or manure storage facility, expanding the structure’s footprint to allow for extra storage capacity can minimize time spent transporting fuel to the thermal system.

4. What kind of co-product does the system produce? Is there an established market for it?

Identify and learn about the type of co-product (ash or biochar) that the system will produce. Make sure that you discuss its fate with the vendor. Some vendors will offer to sell and distribute the co-product for you. In return, they expect to share some of the revenue. Others leave the sale of the ash or biochar co-product entirely to the farmer.

5. What is the scope of the proposed system?

Thermal technology is just one component of the energy system. For the project to function properly, the entire system must be integrated. The thermal technology must be designed to meet specifications of the heat delivery or electricity-generating equipment, and this whole system has to be designed to meet the energy requirements of the farm. The best vendors will install a whole system, not just a single component.

To do this successfully, the vendor should be knowledgeable not only about producing energy but converting and delivering it to its end use. This might mean distributing heat to animal housing or connecting electricity projects to the regional distribution grid. Connecting on-farm energy systems to the grid can be extremely challenging and expensive, so vendors who have worked with the farm’s utility provider in the past have a better chance of avoiding cost overruns and delays.

6. Is the vendor familiar with permitting requirements for the proposed system?

Nothing replaces your direct, independent research on permitting requirements for your project. However, an informed, proactive vendor may be a big help along the way. The vendor may have already gathered contacts and information about the local, state, and federal permits that may or may not apply to a specific manure-to-energy system.

7. Can the vendor provide emissions data (if necessary) to secure state permits?

Some states require emissions data to issue air quality permits for on-farm manure-to-energy systems. Technology vendors should be able to provide this data.

For technologies demonstrated with funding from the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative, comprehensive emissions data is available to support the permitting process.

8. How much will it cost to install?

Thermal technologies that use manure and poultry litter as feedstock are still in the early phases of commercialization or in the research and development phase. This means that manufacturers are testing the market and are not yet producing their equipment in large numbers. This in turns leads to variation in costs and, generally, higher costs per unit.

You will need to research customized options for your farm, and its costs, with individual vendors.

Prices for farms participating in the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative were quoted in the range of $0.40 to $0.63 per Btu/hour for thermal, manure-to-energy technologies using poultry litter as a feedstock to produce heat for poultry houses.

Differences in cost related to the type of technology, material handling, and heat delivery system. Heat output capacity for various technologies currently on the market that have demonstrated capability to use poultry litter as a fuel ranges from 500,000 Btu/hour to nearly 5 million Btu/hour.

At this time, for most farms, reducing the use and cost of propane will not by itself justify the cost of the system. However, some benefits for poultry production have not yet been studied and quantified, which could affect the overall return-on-investment. This is also true for potential income from sales of co-products like ash and biochar. Examples of questions being studied include:

  • Does drier heat from thermal technologies improve air quality in the poultry house and in turn improve bird health, feed conversion, and production?
  • Do lower fuel costs and more abundant heat in the winter improve house air quality and overall production?
  • Where will the market settle on the value of phosphorus and potash in the ash and bio-char co-products?

9. What are the estimated, long-term costs for operation and maintenance?

On-farm thermal energy systems require significantly more time and maintenance than propane heating systems typically used in animal housing. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service technical standards, you should expect an equipment lifespan of approximately ten years.

No third-party, performance-based data is available for long-term operating and maintenance costs. To get a realistic sense of the commitment you are considering, talk with vendors and — ideally — with farmers who use similar technologies.

Ask about labor requirements by day, month, and year. What training and support is provided? What long-term maintenance costs are projected for the proposed system?

10. Is the vendor willing to provide a warranty and if so, what does it cover?

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service establishes an expected lifetime for thermal technologies of 10 years. This means that the system should operate as designed for approximately 10 years if operation and maintenance guidelines are followed.

A warranty is the period of time for which the equipment is guaranteed not to fail. A vendor’s warranty may be for less than the 10 years of expected lifetime. A large difference between the warranty and the expected lifetime of the equipment, combined with the lack of information about the long-term performance of these technologies and high capital costs, raises the risk for your investment.

11. Does this technology qualify for nutrient or carbon credits or trading?

Some states offer nutrient credits for technologies that reduce pollution loading to surface waters. Contact your state environmental protection agency to determine whether nutrient trading is available in your state and, if so, whether farm-scale thermal technologies are eligible.

Thermal technologies that produce heat and electricity may also be eligible for renewable energy credits. These may be offered by third-party credit purchasers, utility companies that purchase renewable energy, or state programs designed to incentivize renewable energy. Contact your state energy administration to find out more information.

Questions to ask about: your farm | permitting | the technology


Farm Manure Energy Initiative logoDevelopment of this information was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Additional Resources on Manure-to-Energy Technologies

Reports on Manure-to Energy Technologies

Financing for Manure-to-Energy Projects

Resources for Manure-to-Energy Projects

You may also be interested in the farm manure-to-energy case studies and an introduction to manure-based energy.

The Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative in the Chesapeake Watershed


Development of this information was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Bio-Burner 500 on Riverhill Farm, Rockingham County, Virginia

The Technology

The Bio-Burner 500 by LEI Products was installed in 2015 on Riverhill Farm in Rockingham County, VA, as a demonstration project for the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative. The Bio-Burner 500 is a combustion system that uses poultry litter as a fuel.

Hot water from the Bio-Burner delivers heat to a turkey poult house via a radiant floor heating system that is used to supplement heat from a traditional propane heating system.

The 2015 installation modified an existing system, previously fueled by woodchips, to accept poultry litter. These modifications included the addition of a wet scrubber to control particulate matter emissions, as well as modifications to the fuel and ash handling systems.

The Farm

Glenn Rodes grows turkeys for Cargill, raising chicks in a 50’x 624’ brooder house before they are moved into one of four grow-out houses. Each year, the farm produces 240,000 birds, 8 flocks, and 1,560 tons of litter. In 2016, Glenn and Sheri Rhodes, owners of Riverhill Farm, were selected as winners of U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s Farm Family Environmental Award for the Northeast Region of the United States.

Performance Evaluation

An overview of the project is available in the main body of the 2016 Final Report. Details are in Appendix C. Although long-term technical performance of this unit using poultry litter as a fuel is currently not available, the report includes an evaluation of air emissions from this and other systems.

Related: Introduction to Thermal Technologies…

More Manure-Based Energy Case Studies


Farm Manure Energy Initiative logoThis case study was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Ecoremedy Gasifier on Flintrock Farm, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

The Technology

The Ecoremedy gasifier ® by Enginuity Energy was installed on Flintrock Farm in Lancaster County, PA, in 2014 as a demonstration project for the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative.

The gasifier is a fixed feed rate, chain-grate, air-blown system that uses poultry litter as a fuel. The system is designed to deliver between 0.8 and 1.2 MBtu/hr of heat via hot water to four poultry houses. Syngas generated from the gasification process enters a separate oxidation chamber where it is combusted and delivered to a boiler and used to heat water that is delivered to the poultry houses via a Landmeco hydronic heating system.

The Farm

Flintrock Farm has been in Dan Heller’s family since the 1940s. The 80-acre farm now includes 12 poultry houses with capacity for 330,000 birds. Mr. Heller was one of six poultry producers to receive the 2012 Family Farm Environmental Excellence Award from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

Performance Evaluation

The Ecoremedy gasifier was evaluated for technical, environmental, and financial performance. An overview of the findings is available in the main body of the 2016 Final Report. Details are in Appendix B.

The report includes an evaluation of air emissions from this and other systems, as well as the potential for transporting and marketing the ash co-product as a crop fertilizer.

Related: Introduction to Thermal Technologies…

More Manure-Based Energy Case Studies


Farm Manure Energy Initiative logoThis case study was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Farm Manure-to-Energy Case Studies

Case studies on thermal manure-based energy are an important way for farmers and service providers to learn from each other’s experience. You may also be interested in a summary of interviews with ten farmers who are using manure-to-energy technologies.

To add a case study to this list, please contact Kristen Hughes Evans kristen@susches.org or Jill Heemstra jheemstra@unl.edu.

field

Ecoremedy Gasifier

Flintrock Farm

Lancaster Co., PA

Read More…

Riverhill Farms Port Republic, Rockingham Co.

Bio-Burner 500

Riverhill Farm

Rockingham Co., VA

Read More…

poultry barns with feed bins

Global Re-Fuel Furnace

PA & VA

Read More…

thumbnail of wind view farm

Blue Flame Boiler

Windview Farm

Snyder Co, PA

Read More…


Farm Manure Energy Initiative logoDevelopment of this information were funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the USDA, U.S. EPA, and Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. The views and conclusions contained in materials related to the Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of NFWF, the USDA, U.S. EPA, or Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by project funders.

Benefits and Challenges of Manure-Based Energy

Manure-to-energy systems on farms can deliver a number of economic benefits for farmers. They can also increase the amount of renewable energy in the United States and, if handled correctly, protect streams and rivers from the polluting effects of surplus nutrients. (Related: Explore other manure treatment technologies).

Financial Benefits

A farmer with an on-site, manure-based energy system can generate heat for the farm’s buildings and equipment, generating significant annual savings in energy costs. This new source of heat could replace traditional propane heat in poultry houses, for use in:

BTU Values of Manure and
Other Feedstocks

Feedstock

(Btus/lb)*

Chicken Litter 6,500
Swine feces 8,000
Dairy manure 8,000
Feedlot manure 4,500
Wood 8,000
Municipal sewage 4,000-8,000
Coal, bituminous 12,000

Manure has enough energy to be valuable, providing moisture is at acceptable level.

* Values reported are based on dry matter basis

Source: Farm Manure-to-Energy Initiative

  • Air-to-air systems
  • Ceiling-mounted hot water hydronic heat exchangers
  • Hot water hydronic floor systems

A farmer can also sell ash and bio-char — two nutrient-rich co-products of the thermochemical process that can be used as fertilizer or soil amendments. Although markets are still emerging for these products, field research indicates that ash and biochar can be used as a substitute for commercial fertilizer to support row crop production. Over the long term, such phosphorus co-products could become increasingly valuable. World consumption of phosphate fertilizer is expected to increase, supplies are expected to decline over the next few decades. The United States is already dependent on phosphorus imports. In fact, our nation is the world’s leading importer of phosphate rock and our domestic production is expected to continue its recent decline. Globally, phosphorus from mined sources is predicted to peak around 2034. Although exploration and expansion of phosphate rock production continues, especially in Africa and Australia, phosphorus from other sources may have a growing value in the marketplace.

In the future, farmers may also be able to sell surplus electricity from energy production to utility companies that manage the local grid, or sell their entire supply on the wholesale market. Projects coupling thermal manure-to-energy technologies with electric generation are still in the research and development phase.

Other benefits that may be realized in the future include the sale of credits, such as those for renewable energy, carbon offsets, or nutrient reduction. Although the markets for these credits are still emerging, the potential for future growth is drawing the attention of entrepreneurs.

Water Quality Benefits

In some locations, animal production creates more manure nutrients (especially phosphorus) than can be effectively used as fertilizer. Rainwater carries surplus nutrients from fertilizer into streams, rivers, and bays, where high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus trigger harmful algae blooms. Manure-based energy provides another use for manure and converts the nutrients into ash and bio-char. These co-products are much easier and more cost-effective to transport for use in other locations where nutrients are needed in the soil.

Reliable, Renewable Energy

Energy produced from manure, a form of biomass, is one of the most dependable forms of energy in the United States. Wind, water, and solar sources of energy all produce an inconsistent flow that makes it more difficult to stabilize the regional energy grid.  The percentage of time in which these types of facilities operate at or near their designed capacity ranges from approximately 17 to 30 percent. In contrast, the capacity factor for biomass is 85.5 percent—second only to nuclear on a nationwide scale. As long as the American consumer relies on a steady diet of milk, meat and eggs, there will be a steady supply of animal manure as feedstock for energy projects. 

Challenges

On-farm manure-to-energy technologies are expensive and require initial investments in infrastructure as well as on-going maintenance and operation costs. Additionally, few vendors have a track record for long-term, successful on-farm performance with multiple farm clients. Most of these technologies are still in the early phases of commercialization, or in the research and development phase. Also, matching technologies to the needs of each unique farm, and customizing systems when necessary, takes time. Systems installed to produce heat will require more labor than traditional propane-fueled heating systems.

Manure-to-energy systems will not be right for every farm, or in every setting. For example, a farmer with more poultry litter than needed to fertilize his own fields typically sells it for use on surrounding farms. If the litter is used to produce energy, it loses its immediate value as a source of nitrogen fertilizer. Therefore, such systems may be most appropriate in regions with concentrated animal production and widespread surplus manure. In such a setting, poultry litter has less value as a fertilizer on nearby farms because high soil phosphorus levels limit how much manure most farms can use. Farmers may find that converting surplus litter to energy, and producing an ash or biochar co-product that can be transported long distances and sold, is a better choice.