In this file:
· Riverkeeper: Smithfield ‘biogas’ plan maintains risk to soil, air, water
· Grant to help farmers harness biomass and manure to fuel farms
Riverkeeper: Smithfield ‘biogas’ plan maintains risk to soil, air, water
By Kemp Burdette, Opinion, The Fayetteville Observer (NC)
Jul 29, 2020
Burdette is the Cape Fear Riverkeeper
Smithfield Foods, a $15 billion company, has a plan to profit from hog waste.
That plan would give it cover to keep its antiquated, polluting system of storing waste from 9 million North Carolina hogs, a system that puts our soil, our air and our water at risk.
Currently, Smithfield’s contractors store the nearly 10 billion gallons of hog waste the company’s hogs produce each year in giant, unlined cesspools, then spray it on nearby cropland. Pathogens from that waste can travel through our porous soils and pollute our water; droplets from the waste drift into neighbors’ homes; and excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste seep into our creeks, streams and rivers, where they can cause toxic algal blooms and dead zones.
Smithfield plans to cover the cesspools at some of the North Carolina hog operations that raise its pigs, capture the gas that’s emitted from the rotting manure and waste, and pipe the gas, which it’s calling biogas, to utility-owned refineries.
One of its planned plants, the “Grady Road Project,” which was slated to begin construction last month, will build 30 miles of pipeline to collect gas from 19 hog operations owned by Smithfield and its contractors in Duplin and Sampson counties, then ship it to a processing plant, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.
Smithfield’s energy subsidiary, Smithfield Renewables, plans to begin producing gas at the plant by late summer and be at full capacity by the end of the year.
The company and its partner, Align, are eyeing an even larger project when Grady Road is complete, involving 30 farms.
Capturing some of the gas from hog waste cesspools won’t solve the pollution problems this primitive waste management method creates. It will also result in a crisscrossing network of pipelines carrying gas across rural communities.
Most of the cesspools that hold those 10 billion gallons of hog waste produced each year are unlined. Under Smithfield’s plan, they’d stay unlined. That means our groundwater will still be at risk.
The covers will trap the ammonia — a gaseous form of nitrogen — that’s emitted by the hog waste. That trapped ammonia means the nitrogen concentration of the waste in those cesspools will be even greater. The waste will still be sprayed on nearby cropland. Droplets of waste can still blow into neighbors’ homes, as well as our rivers.
That means our air and our surface water will still be at risk...
Grant to help farmers harness biomass and manure to fuel farms
Since 2012, Roeslein has been working with Smithfield Foods to adjust practices on their hog farms that have resulted in greater efficiencies.
Source: Iowa State University
via National Hog Farmer - Jul 29, 2020
A new federal grant will allow a research team led by Iowa State University, Penn State University and Roeslein Alternative Energy to develop new methods of turning biomass and manure into fuel.
The five-year, $10 million grant from the USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture will power the Consortium for Cultivating Human and Natural reGenerative Enterprise as it works to create new value chains on U.S. farms, with emphasis on the generation of renewable natural gas, improved rural economic outcomes and protection of the environment.
The project director on the transdisciplinary and multi-institutional grant is Lisa Schulte Moore, a professor of natural resource ecology and management and associate director of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State. Schulte Moore says the consortium will innovate methods for farmers to make more efficient use of resources while maintaining current value chains, resulting in an agricultural economy that's both more profitable and environmentally sound.
"We recognize the benefits of current production systems but also that there's a lot of inefficiency in how we use land, sunlight, nutrients and water," Schulte Moore says. "We also realize that farmers and rural communities are struggling. We know we can address inefficiencies by adding perennials and recoupling crop, livestock and energy systems. Research is needed to ensure these combinations are also profitable."
C-CHANGE researchers are developing new ways for farmers to produce renewable natural gas that could be used as an energy source both on and off farms. The project centers on anaerobic digestion, or the process by which microorganisms break down biomatter and produce biogas, which is mostly methane, the main component of natural gas. With new separation technologies, biogas can be upgraded to renewable natural gas and distributed through the gas pipeline network, much like renewable electricity is distributed through the electrical grid. The researchers are experimenting with how to optimize the digesters, or the containers where the biomatter is broken down into methane. Researchers will test variables such as feedstock mixture, pretreatment, digester temperature and water content to make the process as practical as possible.
"For more than 50 years, anaerobic digestion has been promoted as a way to both improve environmental management of livestock manures and to produce renewable energy," says Tom Richard, director of Penn State's Institutes of Energy and the Environment. "But adoption of anaerobic digestion has been limited by high capital costs and management complexity, which has slowed the advance of this industry and the underlying technology. We will be working with farmers and other industrial partners to update anaerobic digestion for the 21st century, applying the principles of process intensification, automation and economies of scale to reduce costs, simplify operations and expand digester feedstocks beyond manure to incorporate perennial grasses and winter crops into their operations as a source of biomass for the digesters."
Schulte Moore says some areas of farm fields — particularly uneven terrain that is especially susceptible to erosion, frequently inundated areas or turnrows — can yield poor or negative profits for corn and soybean producers. Switching those acres out of corn and soybeans to perennial grasses could save farmers money and protect the environment, she says.
Roeslein Alternative Energy is already pioneering work...