Friday, November 20, 2015

Chicken Shit

Turning our gaze across the Chesapeake Bay where chicken factories are one of the salient features of the landscape, a group of activists called Food & Water Watch has raised protests against the incineration of chicken manure.  You might think, with my advocacy of using chicken litter to make biochar, I would take exception to that position.  The truth is, incineration is not how you make biochar.

F&WW seems to mainly want to make CAFO's go away, but their agitation against the Renewable Fuel Standard inclusion of manure as a Tier 1 renewable fuel is ostensibly based on increased air pollution from incineration.  A long and twisted tale leads to the current state of dissatisfaction over the way we deal with this resource.

We can begin with Martin O'Malley who, back in his days as Maryland Governor, made a deal with Exelon Corporation to fund $50 million of a project to convert chicken litter to energy in exchange for allowing them to merge with Constellation Energy.  The company that got the award to head up the manure power project, Green Planet Power Solutions, failed miserably.  Now, other players are hoping the money is still there for a more competent outfit to give it a try.

In the meantime, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has begun to assist poultry farmers with a much smaller pot of money under the Animal Waste Technology Fund.  A company called Renewable Oil International MD, LLC has been granted $1.2 million in support of developing a manure-fed energy system that makes biochar as a by-product.

The major action, however, is where a company called AgEnergy USA is talking with Perdue about making a $200 million manure-fired energy plant.

Biochar has been little but an afterthought to some of these projects, which leads me back to the F&WW argument.  Biochar is not made by incineration, but by pyrolysis, of which a particular method is gasification.  Pyrolysis involves heating material in a oxygen-deficient environment.  That means less NOx is produced and particulate matter is also kept low, depending on the speed of the process.   F&WW should like that.  I hope they do, because I think I like Food & Water Watch and would like to link arms with them to work for more local agricultural systems.

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