Sunday, March 09, 2008

First ethanol, now methane?

Apparently the NRC guidelines for nutrients in manure are out-of-date, causing a wonderful renewable source of energy to be scrapped. I have one question, though: couldn't they just change the process to make up for the change in the manure? Oh, wait, that would probably cost more money. Sometimes I forget why corporations exist.

Smithfield says manure didn't make the grade for biofuel
By Janie Gabbett on 2/13/2008 for

Smithfield Foods said it sold its Utah biofuels plant because after three years of trying, it concluded it could not generate enough methane from the animal waste it was using to make Smithfield BioEnergy economically practical.

The company explained what went wrong a day after Beacon Energy Corp. announced it had purchased the plant. (See Smithfield biofuel affiliate sold on, February 13, 2008.)

The goal of Smithfield BioEnergy was to capture methane from manure provided by Smithfield's Circle Four Farms swine production operation near Milford, Utah, convert the methane into bio-methanol, and then convert that — along with animal and vegetable fats — into bio-diesel fuel.

"However, we determined that our bio-methanol production plant was not economically feasible — and never would be," the company said in a statement.

Why not?

The facility was designed using engineering and planning assumptions about the strength of the nutrient content of animal manure taken from government data and technical guidance manuals. Those assumptions proved to be wrong.

The nutrient content of the animal manure produced on Smithfield's farms proved to be more than 50 percent below published data estimates, which the company attributed to such factors as:
  • animal genetic improvement
  • improved feed conversion
  • reduced water volume used in production systems
  • and precisely formulated animal diets
"The fact that our Circle Four Farms operation is producing fewer nutrients than had been anticipated is a good thing from an environmental perspective, but the unintended consequence is that we don't have enough methane to make our Smithfield BioEnergy operation economically practical," the company said.

Smithfield is applying what it learned to other facilities around the country to reduce its environmental footprint. For example, projects are in place at facilities in Tar Heel, N.C., Plainwell, Mich., and Green Bay, Wis., to capture and use methane as an alternative and renewable fuel source.

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