Maryland Recognizes Critical Role States Can Play in Ag Energy Solutions

This week, the Maryland governor and agriculture secretary toured a state-subsidized, pilot, on-farm manure-to-energy project on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The project burns poultry litter that heats the poultry house while also reducing humidity and ammonia. It also underscores the role states can play in helping ag producers produce clean energy, meet their stewardship responsibilities and even potentially open new revenue streams for their operations.

The system that Gov. Larry Hogan and Ag Secretary Joe Bartenfelder saw on Monday uses the litter from 160,000 chickens to produce an array of value-added benefits including heat, electricity, an improved environment for the birds, and a potentially high-value concentrated phosphorous fertilizer by-product. The facility at the Double Trouble Farm, which opened in December, represents one of several manure-to-energy projects that the state is funding to reduce poultry-related nutrients from entering storm water runoff and impacting the Chesapeake Bay.

The facility compliments the work being done by the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge (DLLC), an ongoing initiative facilitated by 25x’25’s parent organization, Solutions from the Land, to improve the management of poultry-related nutrients by focusing on issues related to the storage, transport and land application of poultry litter on the Delmarva Peninsula.

During the tour and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Double Trouble Farm on Monday participants saw a system in which the builder and operator of the system, Ireland-based Biomass Heating Solutions Inc. (BHSL), uses electricity generating technology to process poultry litter into energy for heating two of four poultry houses on the farm. Adding “dry” heat to poultry houses has been proven at other sites to improve the flock growth rate and overall bird health – benefits that will enhance potential profit margins, reduce payback period for the technology and improve the likelihood of transferability to other poultry operations.

While the innovative technology aims to reduce the environmental impact of the poultry litter, the farm’s owners hope the system will generate additional revenue. They are working with BHSL to explore markets for the high-phosphorus, ash by-product, including outreach to regional fertilizer companies.

Overall, the system will reduce energy costs through the use of manure as a fuel source for heating poultry houses; improve animal welfare and reduce the risk of diseases; help the birds to reach target weight more quickly; and potentially expand producer revenue streams through earnings from the sale of excess electricity and the fertilizer by-product.

The Double Trouble system was made possible in large part due to a $970,000 animal waste technology grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture to BHSL, the firm that built the manure-to-energy project. The company has also received an additional $139,000 from the state to monitor its operation for one year. Simultaneously, the University of Maryland is tracking data from the project and helping with other testing.

At the heart of Maryland’s support for innovative technologies that address agricultural residues is the state’s Animal Waste Technology Fund, a grant program that provides seed funding to companies that demonstrate innovative technologies to manage or repurpose manure resources. To date, the program has approved $3.7 million in grants to six projects.

Also to be commended are Bob, J.B. and Brad Murphy, the owners of Double Trouble, who, in the words of Bartenfelder, have taken “the time and risk involved in being the test case for a promising new way of doing business.”

The collaboration that is shown with this project between producers, the state of Maryland, academia and businesses is quite impressive. The 25x’25 Alliance urges officials and stakeholders in other states to study the model established in Maryland, taking to heart the principles that there are ways to meet daunting energy and environmental challenges with forward-thinking, sustainable solutions.

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