11/23/07 — Company's plan would turn hog waste into energy

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Company's plan would turn hog waste into energy

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 23, 2007 2:06 PM

KENANSVILLE -- With an estimated 2.2 million hogs, each producing an average of 11 pounds of waste every day, swine manure is one of Duplin County's most abundant resources, and currently, it is being pumped into controversial lagoons and spray fields where it serves as fertilizer.

Boonehill LLC, however, has another solution -- alternative energy.

Pitching an idea called gasification, vice president Mark Boone came before the commissioners this week to request two things -- their support and a no-cost, 25-year lease on a 25-acre parcel of county-owned land on Landfill Road.

And, while he only received one, it was perhaps the most important.

"History provides that every time there is a situation like this, it always targets African Americans," Commissioner Reginald Wells said. "I don't represent that community, but I do pastor them. We already have the landfill in that community. Put this somewhere else. Find a location where there is no population."

That sentiment was echoed by Landfill Road resident Reginald Kenan.

"I'm not opposed to this project," he said. "But I am opposed to where it is located."

And so, by unanimous vote, the commissioners agreed that while they are interested in learning more about Boonehill's project, they would not provide the requested land.

"We ought to be interested in trying to find out how exactly it might help Duplin County, but this process can be put anywhere," Commissioner L.S. Guy said.

The process, known as gasification, is one that has been around for several years and has been researched extensively at N.C. State University.

Basically, Boone explained, workers would transport hog waste from local farms to a central processing plant where the material would then be put in a type of incinerator.

Unlike traditional burners, though, gasification traps the gases created by the burning process and recycles them, letting off very low emissions.

Then, with temperatures in the burning chambers reaching 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the waste becomes ash -- about 15 percent the amount of the original material.

From there, that ash can be used in fertilizers, concrete or possibly even bricks.

The main benefit of the system, though, Boone said, is that the heat created by the gasification can also be used to power a steam generator to produce electricity, which can be sold to a local power company.

Then, other bi-products -- waste heat, water and carbon dioxide -- can be used in greenhouses.

"What we hope to have is a completely green process," Boone said.

And so, he added, the benefits to Duplin County are not only jobs and tax revenue, but also a cleaner environment.

Sweetening the pot even more, he continued, is the fact that the estimated $30 million to $40 million project would not require any monetary investment from the county.

It also would not -- at least initially -- require any investment from the first group of farmers to sign up to have their waste hauled away.

"Our plan is to buy the (waste collection) systems and install them on the farms for the farmers," Boone said. "At least on the first go around we felt we needed to take care of everything."

From the industry standpoint, though intrigued, few are willing to buy into this project yet.

"(Because of its swine density) Duplin County is attractive to companies looking to capitalize on what is described above," said Kraig Westerbeek, environmental compliance director for Murphy Brown LLC. "Manure-to-energy projects have the potential to have a very positive impact on Duplin County. They have been somewhat cost prohibitive, but they're more viable now than in the past."

But, since Boonehill is not the only such company taking a look at Duplin County, the commissioners are taking a wait-and-see attitude, and are hoping to learn more about Boonefield and the gasification process before offering their support.