Pennsylvania’s largest manure-to-energy project is close to being operational.
Reached by phone late last week, Mike McCaskey of Energyworks, an Annapolis, Md.-based company that is building a manure gasification plant on the grounds of Hillendale Farm in Gettysburg, said the project is nearing completion and that final testing of systems is ongoing and should be completed by the end of January.
The $30 million plant, which has been under construction since late 2011, will use manure from the more than 5 million layer hens at Hillendale — the largest layer facility in Pennsylvania — as a feedstock to generate as much as 3.5 megawatts of electricity.
The process involves turning manure into synthetic gas, which will then be burned to produce heat to drive an electricity-generating steam turbine.
It is the largest approved nutrient credit generating project of its kind in Pennsylvania. The state has certified that the project can generate up to 1.05 million nitrogen credits and 53,853 phosphorus credits.
PPL Energy Plus purchased three years worth of nitrogen credits from the project — 30,000 credits a year — for $2.98 a credit at the March 21, 2012, Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority auction.
McCaskey said the company is already moving forward with a similar project in Lancaster County that could be under construction by the first quarter of 2014, although he did not disclose a location.
Another project in Adams County is also planned, but is not as far along.
“Really, it’s going to depend on how we develop the technology. It doesn’t take a lot to change the feedstock and run it in a completely different environment,” McCaskey said.
The company also hopes to generate an ash byproduct from the process, which could be used in feed for broilers and layer hens to replace an expensive poultry feed additive, dicalcium phosphate.
Paul Patterson, professor of poultry science at Penn State, has been studying samples of the ash byproduct for about a year and said it’s produced some promising results.
In one test, ash was fed to 420 broiler chickens. While it didn’t perform as well as dicalcium phosphate in terms of allowing the birds to rapidly put on body weight — the industry standard is to grow broilers in about six weeks — Patterson said digestion of calcium and phosphorus was actually better when using the ash.
It was also fed to layer hens, resulting in higher quality shells but not much difference in egg weights.
Patterson said ash consumption actually declined as it was added at higher levels to the diet. The amount of phosphate in ash is about half the value found in dicalcium phosphate, so you would have to feed more of it to get the same nutrient value.
Still, Patterson said some growers could save money, given how much it costs to buy dicalcium phosphate. A ton of it sells for about $650, which is actually down from the $800-a-ton average of two years ago.
He calculated that a grower feeding 1 million layer hens could save $250,000 a year by replacing half the dicalcium phosphate in the diet with ash generated by the Energyworks facility.
He said he’s been working on getting the ash approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a feed additive.
“Reclaiming this is huge. Feeding calcium phosphate to a laying hen or broiler chicken is common and expensive. Getting that for free, if you will, or recycled, is a huge boon,” he said. “I think it ultimately comes down to level of inclusion in the diet.”