February 28, 2012
By Jeremy Hunt
HARRISONBURG – To people outside the agriculture industry, poultry litter is just animal waste.
But to poultry farmers, that’s an ill-informed misnomer for a product that generates income as fertilizer and that some in the industry are looking to as a source of fuel.
“We don’t call it waste,” said Hobey Bauhan, president of the Harrisonburg-based Virginia Poultry Growers Federation.
Bauhan was one of 10 panelists at a forum Tuesday exploring issues related to converting poultry litter into energy.
Panelists included representatives of companies who provided information about products they’re developing, ranging from small-scale generators to large power plants.
Also taking part was a representative of Shenandoah National Park, researchers, and conservation advocates.
Tuesday’s meeting was hosted by the Valley 25x’25 Project, a group based at James Madison University that aims to reach 25 percent renewable energy use in the Valley by 2025.
More than 50 people attended the three-hour meeting at JMU’s Memorial Hall.
Litter-to-energy is seen as a potential source of renewable, clean energy, as well as a way to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.
But the two-bird-killing stone is not without critics. Conservationists worry what effect a large-scale power plant could have on the area.
Panelists at Tuesday’s meeting discussed the merits of various conversion systems, including what scale would be appropriate for the Shenandoah Valley.
Jim Schaberl, natural resource and conservation division chief for Shenandoah National Park, said a large facility could harm air quality and consequently tourism. Further, Schaberl said, air quality isn’t accounted for in bay cleanup plans even though it makes up a third of pollution in area waterways.
“Redirecting pollution from the water to the air does not solve the problem in the bay,” he said.
Laura Kellogg spoke on behalf of Fibrowatt, a Pennsylvania-based company that sought to build a large-scale power plant in Page County in 2010. Kellogg said the 55-megawatt plant Fibrowatt proposes would produce low-cost, renewable energy and help meet bay pollution reduction goals.
Opponents of a Fibrowatt-type facility say such plants can emit dangerous toxins, and Fibrowatt has been cited for violating air quality standards for its plant in Benson, Minn. Kellogg didn’t address the Minnesota plant but said the company’s emissions are below Environmental Protection Agency limits. And, she said, large-scale operations face strict scrutiny that small-scale generators don’t.
Scott Laskowski, founder of LEI Products in Madisonville, Ky., said his products’ emissions are too minute to be regulated. LEI’s Bio-Burners fill a niche market of farmers who need 100,000 to 1 million Btu by using a variety of biomass products that traditional generators cannot, including wet or dry chips, pellets and manure, Laskowski said.
Kevin Comer, who represented engineering firm Antares Group, which is based in Maryland and has a Harrisonburg office, said it’s important to recognize that litter is “not a great fuel.” But, he said, the good news is it’s feasible, so long as people are willing to pay extra for it.
Laskowski, however, took issue with that assertion, saying his goal is to create a product that makes litter cost-effective as fuel, with no governmental subsidies.
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or