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Smithfield expands 'manure-to-energy' projects

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Through nationwide expansion of Smithfield Renewables, company sets ambitious GHG reduction goals.

Smithfield Foods Inc. announced Oct. 25, through the nationwide expansion of Smithfield Renewables, a series of innovative projects designed to help meet its goal to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25% by 2025, which it set in concert with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). This month marks the one-year anniversary of Smithfield Renewables.

As part of the expansion of Smithfield Renewables, Smithfield said it is:

* Setting the ambitious goal to implement “manure-to-energy” projects across 90% of Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in North Carolina and Utah and nearly all Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in Missouri over the next 10 years. This timeline will aid the company in achieving — and exceeding — its "25 by '25" commitment.

* Converting existing anaerobic treatment lagoons to covered digesters or constructing new covered digesters to capture biogas, which will be transported to central processing facilities to be converted into renewable natural gas (RNG) in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah.

* Launching new programs that target GHG reductions and bolster Smithfield’s sustainability efforts at farms, plants and throughout the company’s transportation network.

“When we set an objective, we go big at Smithfield to achieve it. Today’s announcement is the culmination of decades spent studying and perfecting the commercial viability of ‘manure-to-energy’ projects. Our investment in these projects underscores our long-standing commitment to sustainability as well as our promise to produce good food in a responsible way,” Smithfield president and chief executive officer Kenneth M. Sullivan said.

He noted that while the scale of these projects is "audacious," the company has assembled partnerships with a broad coalition of stakeholders, including family farmers, government, energy partners and other constituents, to "bring about sustainable, revolutionary progress in our effort to minimize our environmental footprint.”

“Smithfield is demonstrating leadership by investing in solutions that build climate resilience and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Smithfield’s commitment to deploy technologies that convert methane into renewable biogas will substantially reduce emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas and create economic opportunities for rural communities. This commitment marks a welcome turning point for the industry,” EDF president Fred Krupp said.

With a long-standing commitment to innovation and continuous improvement, Smithfield said it has been researching and exploring sustainable ways to transform manure into energy for many years.

“Now, thanks to the dedication of our team members, technological advancements and a viable market for RNG, manure-to-energy projects are a sustainable endeavor for hog farms,” said Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer at Smithfield. “We are proud to expand our efforts across the country, shrinking our environmental footprint and investing in the protection of our planet’s resources.”

North Carolina

In North Carolina, Smithfield, in concert with several of its contract farmers, spearheaded the pilot program known as Optima KV, which is depicted in this video. Operational since late March, Optima KV uses five anaerobic digesters to capture and clean biogas collected from in-ground digesters at five of Smithfield’s contract hog farms. The gas is then transported to a central facility to be converted into RNG. The facility is located on Smithfield property and operated by Cavanaugh & Associates, a consulting engineering firm, in partnership with swine waste-to-energy project developer, OptimaBio LLC.

Optima KV is the first to leverage Smithfield’s relationship with its contract farmers, who raise and care for Smithfield’s hogs, and will create enough RNG to power 1,000 homes each year. It is also the first project to both source and create RNG in North Carolina.

Following the success of the pilot project, Smithfield will expand its renewable energy efforts across eastern North Carolina. Smithfield will work with its contract farmers to convert existing anaerobic treatment lagoons to covered digesters or construct new covered digesters to capture biogas, which will then be transported to central processing facilities to be converted into RNG. In 10 years, Smithfield said more than 90% of its company-owned and contract hog finishing spaces in North Carolina will have the capabilities to produce RNG. In addition to converting manure to energy, the company said the covered lagoon digesters will mitigate potential issues associated with severe rain events, such as hurricanes.

To complement the renewable energy efforts taking place on farms, Smithfield said its Tar Heel, N.C., facility will leverage its wastewater treatment system to create RNG. The company is working with OptimaBio to build a refinery and gas injection system that will collect and clean biogas from an existing onsite digester. The cleaned biogas will be injected into the natural gas pipeline to serve local consumers. The engineering for this initiative is completed, and the project will be operational within one year, Smithfield said. Once completed, the project will power more than 2,000 homes in the surrounding area each year.


In Missouri, Smithfield and Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE) are embarking on a joint venture to launch the second phase of a project that currently converts manure collected from company-owned farms into enough RNG to power 15,400 homes per year. By the end of this phase, Smithfield and RAE will have jointly installed biogas infrastructure across all company-owned finishing farms in Missouri, according to the announcement.

In 10 years, nearly 100% of Smithfield’s company-owned hog finishing spaces in Missouri will have the capability to produce RNG.

In addition to using manure to create RNG, this project will harvest prairie grass for methane generation, Smithfield said, noting that the harvested grasses -- which supplement the biogas generation, particularly during the cold winter months -- are part of a prairie restoration effort that Smithfield has supported in northern Missouri for some time. 


In Utah, Smithfield said it is directly investing in RNG production by building 26 hog farms equipped with covered lagoons specifically designed for anaerobic digestion. This project marks the first time that Smithfield is building U.S. hog farms equipped with renewable energy technology. The engineering includes in-ground digesters to collect biogas that will be refined and pumped into the natural gas pipeline. Once complete, the project will create enough RNG to power 4,000 homes each year.

Smithfield is constructing the farms, which will ultimately be owned and operated by contract growers, providing new economic opportunities to local Utah farmers.

In 10 years, more than 90% of Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in Utah will have the capability to produce renewable energy.

Further innovations

In addition to renewable energy projects, Smithfield is implementing several other projects across its operations and supply chain that will have a positive effect on its carbon reduction efforts.

On its hog farms, Smithfield said it is introducing new technologies that will reduce truck traffic and miles traveled by more than 85% on certain routes.

Smithfield said it is also adopting low-trajectory application tools to more efficiently apply recycled nutrients to farmland and is planting more vegetative buffers on its farms.

In its grain supply chain, Smithfield said it is on track to meet its goal to source 75% of its grain from farmers who use efficient fertilizer and soil health practices.

Finally, Smithfield will continue to collaborate with university and other partners to better quantify the impact of “waste-to-energy” technology on environmental outcomes and endeavor to further develop improvements to manure management systems.

Smithfield said an internal advisory committee evaluates these and future projects to ensure that the company remains on track to meeting its GHG reduction goal and other renewable efforts.

Smithfield Foods is a $15 billion global food company and the world's largest pork processor and hog producer.

TAGS: Business Swine
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