CONSTRUCTION has begun in northern Missouri on an innovative, $80 million renewable energy project developed and constructed by Roeslein Alternative Energy LLC (RAE) in collaboration with Murphy-Brown of Missouri LLC (MBM), the livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc.
Crews have been installing impermeable covers on 88 existing lagoons to harvest biogas — also called renewable natural gas — from MBM hog finishing farms using anaerobic digestion technology developed and installed by RAE.
The project is the largest of its kind, utilizing manure from one of the biggest concentrations of finishing hogs in the Midwest to create several-hundred-million cubic feet of renewable natural gas annually for regional distribution.
The project is a unique and innovative model for sustainability that will demonstrate how underutilized agricultural resources can create renewable fuel, benefit the ecosystem and generate economic opportunity.
"We are excited to see the results of our collaboration with Smithfield and Murphy-Brown begin to take shape. This project can be a model to show how both economic and environmental benefits can be gained by using manure in a different way," said Rudi Roeslein, president of RAE and chief executive officer of Roeslein & Associates, a global leader in systems integration specializing in sophisticated modular construction.
According to RAE, anaerobic digestion is not being implemented to its full potential in the U.S. RAE pointed out that Germany has more than 6,800 anaerobic digestion facilities generating power for millions of homes, but the opportunity is greater in American farm country, where the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that approximately 2,600 dairy and 5,600 swine operations could support anaerobic systems (Map).
"We're going to be producing a renewable energy from a product that, in the past, has been underutilized or perhaps even looked at as a waste product," MBM director of administration Bill Homann said.
To begin the energy conversion process, impermeable synthetic covers will be placed on existing nutrient treatment lagoons, and barn scraper technology will deliver raw nutrients of livestock manure to covered lagoons.
The covers will turn the lagoons into anaerobic digesters, where naturally occurring microorganisms decompose the manure in an oxygen-free environment. Biogas will then rise to the top, where it will be collected and cleaned of impurities. What remains will be more than 98% methane and will have approximately the same chemical composition as natural gas that can be used for vehicle fuel or injected into the natural gas grid system.
The non-digestible solid residue can be used by local farmers as a natural fertilizer, and the water can be safely used for irrigation.
"This project fits perfectly with our mission to not only be responsible environmental stewards but create a direct benefit to the community by helping create a product such as natural gas — a renewable, clean-burning fuel," Homann said. "Partnering with experts like Roeslein help us make projects like these a reality."
Roeslein added, "There is value in the gas we capture as alternative vehicle fuel. There is even more value to the environment from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating rainfall effects on treatment systems and odor reduction."
RAE retained Industrial & Environmental Concepts Inc. to design and install the high-density polyethylene lagoon covers, with the initial 21 to be installed at the MBM Valley View and South Meadows farms in northern Missouri by this fall. Renewable natural gas production is expected to begin in late 2014.
RAE selected investment banking firm Stern Brothers & Co. to underwrite the entire financing for the project. Much of the equipment and process modules will be fabricated by local fabrication companies and Roeslein & Associates' wholly owned subsidiary Roeslein Fabrication in Red Bud, Ill.
In addition to using hog manure, RAE ultimately intends to produce renewable natural gas from cover crops harvested between growing seasons on prime agricultural land and grasses harvested from highly erodible farmland converted to native grasslands.
The concept, it said, creates an economic structure that better utilizes land assets, delivers significant environmental benefits, reduces soil erosion, benefits wildlife and improves water quality.
More than 8,000 children in northeastern and central Iowa will soon benefit from an expansion of the Ham Sandwiches for Kids program, sponsored by the Deb & Jeff Hansen Foundation and Iowa Select Farms, the largest pork producer in Iowa and the sixth-largest pork producer in the U.S.
Coupons valued at $5.00 each will be distributed four times a year to families with children participating in the Food Bank of Iowa and Northeast Iowa Food Bank BackPack Program.
The backpack program was designed to help provide nutritious food items for children on weekends and during school breaks, when school meal programs are not available.
Iowa Select Farms communications director Jen Sorenson told Feedstuffs that deli ham was selected for several reasons. "It is kid-friendly, protein-rich, readily available and recognized by the (U.S. Department of Agriculture's) MyPlate guidelines as lean protein," she explained.
The Ham Sandwiches for Kids program began in 2012 and, according to Sorenson, has positively affected a large number of children since its inception and continues to grow significantly. The expansion will bring the total value of the program to $166,000.
At a kick-off event during the Iowa State Fair, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad promoted the program's expansion, which also coincides with the Sept. 1 start of Hunger Action Month, a nationwide campaign organized by Feeding America that aims to mobilize the public to take action on the issue of hunger. The Food Bank of Iowa and others in the Feeding America network will be holding events nationwide to promote hunger awareness.
One in eight Iowa residents is food insecure, lacking the means to obtain safe and nutritious food, and according to Sorenson, "One in five children in the state do not have enough access to enough nutritious food. Hunger is a serious problem in the state of Iowa."
Ham Sandwiches for Kids is just one of the ways the Deb & Jeff Hansen Foundation, established in 2006, contributes to hunger relief efforts in Iowa. Other programs include public pork loin giveaways and donations of pork loins to rural food pantries during the weeks leading up to holidays.
Iowa Select Farms' employees were actively engaged in the delivery of the pork loins, which provided 172,800 servings to rural communities last year. The food pantries were identified by employees who live and work in the regions of the state targeted for the giveaways.
The foundation also works with other philanthropic organizations to relieve hunger, support military families and strengthen efforts to find a cure for childhood cancer while improving the quality of life for cancer patients. Later this year, the foundation plans to launch new programs that continue its priorities.