Ramble On

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fibrowatt: More Questions than Answers

Today we will close out the “month of Fibrowatt” on Hawksbill Cabin with a post that feeds back a few questions from the dialog over on Facebook, and then a look again at the 2008 Chesapeake Bay Foundation report I referenced in yesterday’s post and linked below.

Susan G. is a reader on Facebook who has been following the Fibrowatt developments in Page County and elsewhere for the last year or so. She wrote with a couple of insights about the current economic and financial situation, raising questions about the viability of a Fibrowatt plant venture in the Valley. She notes that there have been price increases on agricultural inputs to the poultry industry in the range of 30 percent since 2008, and connects this issue with questions about the public financial commitment to a proposed plant – capital intensive as it would be.

Susan admits, as I will, that the full scope of the working group isn’t well understood; for example, are these questions about public finance part of what the ultimate study will address? Costs of poultry waste to energy systems were an area of “recommended further research” in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation paper…minimal calculations of net present value, payback periods, return on investment, etc. all need to be put together to get an understanding of this part of the question.

In the Hawksbill Cabin Fibrowatt research, I have found two references to these questions – in the interest of a timely post I won’t source one of them today, although I have referenced it in the past. In a recent North Carolina newspaper article there was a notation about Fibrowatt’s failure to come to terms with a power company on pricing for the energy produced; this created a delay in project approval and development. Also, in the Foundation’s 2008 report, competition for raw materials and the inability to agree on the amount of public subsidy were noted as reasons for the delay in a Maryland plant.

As Susan writes, emphasizing the scale and duration of the public commitment that would be required – and the risks the public would likely take on for this plant:

“…it would be interesting to know what provisions exist for the possibility that the plant [ceasing to] operate due to an inability to obtain raw materials. Would the entire burden fall onto the public?”

These are examples of some questions that remain unanswered. Maybe in a few weeks I will return to the topic and see what research has been done in this direction. For now, let’s move on to the findings and recommendations in the Foundation’s 2008 report, where the result was summarized as follows:

“Both farm-scale and commercial-scale litter-to-energy systems may be a potential way to use the excess litter found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The findings of this report suggest that litter-to-energy systems are, for the most part, technologically feasible; however, there are other challenges that must be overcome to make these systems a viable option in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including high system cost and the issue of litter availability. In addition, there are still a number of variables that need to be better understood in order to determine whether litter-to-energy systems are truly feasible in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and whether or not they should be promoted by organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Program.”

I should note that the Hawksbill Cabin blog and Chesapeake Bay Foundation coverage had some similarities (although I didn’t have a grant to do the research…maybe I should look into it): we both looked at alternatives to the Fibrowatt approach using some case studies, and we both considered supply and demand impacts. And, we both close with a few more questions that remain unanswered – in the Foundation’s report, these are areas for future research, which I will summarize here for brevity.

  • What level of nutrient load reduction can be achieved through the use of a litter-to-energy system? A more in-depth analysis is needed to quantify the reduction resulting from the use of litter-to-energy systems versus the status quo (e.g. land application).
  • What sort of air emissions do these systems release (type and amount)? Although there is already some information on this, additional information would be useful.
  • What impact do the air emissions from these systems have on water quality?
  • Are there potential toxic air pollution concerns that need to be better addressed (such as those resulting from the release of airborne arsenic)?
  • Are state and federal air permitting programs set up to allow for these types of operations?
  • How much excess litter is available in different regions of the Chesapeake Bay watershed? What other factors affect litter supply (e.g. price of energy and other market forces)? Is there enough excess litter to support a large commercial-scale litter-to-energy plant?
  • How much does an on-farm litter-to-energy system cost? On-farm systems are still relatively new and many of the current systems have been constructed as part of demonstration or research projects, making it difficult to determine the cost of future systems.
  • How much money would a farmer need to put up to get a system installed and operating on his farm?
  • What is the potential payback timeframe for a litter-to-energy system? Several ongoing studies are expected to quantify this. Understanding this component is critical in determining the marketability of these systems.
  • Are farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed willing to participate in litter-to-energy projects? If it is determined that litter-to-energy systems are viable and should be promoted in the watershed, then education and outreach efforts will be needed to encourage farmer adoption of these systems.
  • How much time must a farmer devote to operating and maintaining an on-farm litter-to-energy system?
If readers have studies or other citations you'd like me to take a look at and post on in the future, your comments are welcomed here, or you can send them to me by email.  In the meantimes, the Foundation’s 2008 report can be found here for reference:


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Poultry Litter Supply and Demand in the Valley

From time to time I’ve heard mention of a report that was published by the Chesapeake Bay Program in January 2008. Informally, I understand that the report has been mentioned in the working group’s discussions; in fact, some of the stakeholders acknowledged in that report are participating in the current Virginia effort. I found a copy of the report online (link below), its lengthy title – merited because this is a comprehensive report, worth the read if you are interested in this energy topic – is Turning Chesapeake Bay Watershed Poultry Manure and Litter into Energy: An Analysis of the Impediments and the Feasibility of Implementing Energy Technologies in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in Order to Improve Water Quality.

Among the feedback I have heard about the second meeting was a discussion about the scale of a potential plant in the Shenandoah Valley. They are talking about a 55MW plant, which would be comparatively large, considering other plants that were discussed in the Chesapeake Bay Program report, summarized in the table below.

Location/ MW/ Annual Litter Requirements
  • Eye, Suffolk, UK/12.7 /140K tons
  • Glanford, UK/ 13.5/ Not reported
  • Thetford, UK/ 38.5 /420K tons
  • Westfield, Scotland/ 9.8/ 110K tons
  • Fibrominn, Benson, MN/ 55/ 700K tons
  • Fibroshore (Proposed, MD) /38.5/ 300K tons (plus 50K tons of biomass)
  • Conectiv (Proposed retrofit, MD) /35 /400K tons
One point of interest is the litter requirements for this type of plant. According to the report, the Fibrominn plant requires 700,000 tons annually to generate 55MW of power; in the working group’s discussion, the requirement was identified as 400,000 tons. Beyond the apparent discrepancy in this litter requirement is the question of where would it come from.

The University of Minnesota report I referenced yesterday – dated 2000 and available at the ** link below – estimated that just over 450,000 tons of poultry litter are available in the Valley. The proposed plant, at this volume, would require the purchase of nearly all waste litter available in the Valley, unless the purchase radius were extended. The report estimated that another 110,000 tons are available if that radius is extended to 160 miles, for a total of 560,000 tons, which would be adequate for the level of demand discussed at the working group.

I'm out of time today.  However, there is one point of interest about the competition for litter - it is useful to some farmers as a fertilizer, after all, and with proper management of the impacts to the watershed this use would likely continue - in the case of the Fibroshore plant, a Perdue establishment also buys waste litter:

"Whether or not there is a sufficient amount of poultry litter available in the region for a power plant of this size is questionable. A large portion of the region’s litter is already being used by Perdue AgriRecycle, which is a large-scale litter pelletizing operation located in Sussex County, Delaware. Perdue Incorporated invested more than $13 million in Perdue AgriRecycle, which started operation in 2001 and can process the equivalent of 400 poultry houses worth of litter each year."

More to follow, stay tuned...

* http://www.chesapeakebay.net/content/publications/cbp_17018.pdf  

** http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/14825/1/rr000048.pdf

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Working Group Reports - and the Optimal Location of a Fibrowatt Plant

While we await additional information, there is a report up on WHSV this morning about the working group meeting held yesterday in Harrisonburg at the DEQ offices.  The article, linked below*, says the working group is still in the scoping stage of the study.  Seventy people attended, including several of our Page County folks, including J.D. Cave and Lee McWhorter, who are quoted in the article.

Meanwhile, here on Hawksbill Cabin, I have been looking for a map of the major concentrations of poulty farms around the state.  Here is some 2009 data I found about the industry in the Shenandoah Valley on http://www.vapoultry.com/:

  • Approximately 550 chicken farms
  • Approximately 280 turkey farms
  • Approximately $80,000,000 in grower pay
  • 6 poultry processing companies (Cargill, George’s Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods and Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, Inc) employ more than 6,000 people.
  • Indirectly supports approximately 43,200 related jobs outside of the poultry industry, many within the Shenandoah Valley
  • 5 poultry company feed mills produce more than 1,500,000 tons of poultry feed annually
While I haven't yet found a map of the industry as it stands today, I did find some 2000 research from the University of Minnesota (surprisingly, there are a couple of papers at that school about the industry in the Shenandoah Valley...of course, Minnesota is one of the country's largest poultry producers, it is also the location of Fibrowatt's first US plant) about operating a feed-to-litter exchange as a way to improve the economics of hauling both of these poultry inputs**.  The data likely need some updating, however, there is a map of the optimal location for the exchange on page 29 of the report. 

It proposed Harrisonburg as the optimal location, based on haul distances ranging from 64 to 185 miles - from locations scattered around the state in all directions.  So there is a precedent for this location and there is a longer term context for the feasibility study. 

We'll keep you posted.

* http://www.whsv.com/news/headlines/Study_To_Look_Into_Feasibility_of_Poultry_Litter_Power_Plant_118806854.html
** http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/14825/1/rr000048.pdf

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Better Name for the Waste-to-Energy Working Group

Thanks for the many of you that have engaged this topic so far, on Facebook and here on the blog.  It continues to be important for the Valley...

One commenter has mentioned that the working group that I've posted on a couple of times in this series has narrowed their focus to strictly consider the impacts of a Fibrowatt plant that would prospectively be placed somewhere in the Valley. 

Perhaps that group should be renamed the "Fibrowatt Site Selection Working Group."

Your elected officials need to hear from you if you do not think your voice has been heard.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Repost: Fibrowatt's Squeeze on Local Farmers

Today I am reposting some early, simple economic analysis of the potential negative impact a Fibrowatt plant would have on Shenandoah Valley agriculture.  This is a long post, combining several days worth of research and analysis.

To summarize, these things don't come without costs, without negative economic impacts.  As a privately held company, only Fibrowatt's owners stand to gain from the plant.  There are substantial hidden costs that the farmers and communities would find as a Fibrowatt plant came on line...from reduced farm revenues due to fixed price contracts for the litter, to higher input costs due to their competition for raw materials.  Here's the earlier post:

I found an article (linked below) in the Winston-Salem, NC paper about Fibrowatt’s failure to negotiate a sales agreement for their power with Progress Energy and Duke Power, the two major utilities in the Carolinas. (Full disclosure: my family used to own Progress Energy stock). Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“…the utility companies didn't mention Fibrowatt by name, but indicated that the "single poultry waste" generator proposed prices that would consume a significant amount of the companies' money that they need to buy other types of renewable energy such as solar and wind power.”

Readers will recall that [last year] I posted an excerpt from a Page County farmer’s analysis of the negative economic impact Fibrowatt could have on poultry operations – basically, because they would seek long-term agreements with poultry farms to buy up used litter, they would seek discounts over current market prices, which would reduce this source of revenue for our farmers.

This development in the negotiations with the NC power companies means that Fibrowatt will put a lot of pressure on local farmers in order to have better control on its own costs, disregarding the interest of those very farmers - who they also refer to as "partners!"

In fact, the farmer’s letter I posted went on to discuss that the Fibrowatt offer was lower than current market competitive rates, a market that is supported by state and federal level agriculture agencies, which will pay a benefit to farmers outside of Page County for buying and spreading the local litter. The farmer closed his letter with this note:

“As far as poultry growers getting more in terms of total sales dollars for their litter [from Fibrowatt], I don't really see that happening because of the current price of litter. I see a profit margin decrease happening for poultry growers instead of an increase.”

So that is part one of Fibrowatt’s squeeze on poultry farmers – hitting the revenue side of farmers’ litter operations, reducing their total sales dollars. There is also a squeeze on the cost side, which Terry Walmsley discussed in the Page County BOS presentation last [March].

Terry mentioned a couple of things that needed to be done with the litter to ensure that it was a high-quality fuel for the burn process – and that one of the things that is done in the fuel storage room is to mix it with other “biomass” sources, including various raw materials that litter is produced from. In Minnesota, this can include sunflower seed hulls – so you have Fibrowatt actively competing with Minnesota farmers to buy these raw materials from the plant.

It is basic economics that when competition increases on the demand side, prices increase in the short term. Over the longer term, they may level out, but if production is increased to meet the new demand there will be pressure to keep market equilibrium at the higher price, or supplier/producers will switch to other commodities.

Here in Virginia, a large portion of litter comes from wood shavings, which are apparently already in short supply within the Shenandoah Valley region. This product was specifically mentioned as an example of what would be in the mix at the proposed Valley plant.

So once again, Fibrowatt will compete with local poultry farmers for resources, in this case, driving up raw materials costs.

For a company that claims to partner with the poultry industry, this “squeeze” – raising the costs of inputs and reducing total sales revenues – is an ironic concept. I’ve heard one of the leaders of the local poultry association tout Fibrowatt as a long-term savior of the industry in Page County. It is more likely that these costs will put the smaller operations out of business by making them economically unsustainable!

...I also wanted to put up a summary of what I’ve learned about using chicken litter for fertilizer. I say summary because I am going to focus on three elements that are a component of chicken litter fertilizer – Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, or N, P and K as they are listed in the periodic table.

In Page County and elsewhere in Virginia (and most other poultry producing states, as a matter of fact), chicken litter is used as an early-stage starter fertilizer in fields, especially those that produce animal feeds like corn and soybeans. Each of the three nutrients have their own value, and from the “Latest Scoop” article linked below, we see that on nutrient value alone, litter is worth from $40 to $45 a ton, yet costs in the $30 per ton range, including transportation an spreading. Meanwhile, buying fertilizer to provide these nutrients costs about $110-$130 per acre – per the “Input Costs” article linked below.

Fibrowatt plans to buy the “excess” litter and burn it to produce power. They say that the ash makes a good fertilizer, and a firm was started in close proximity to the Benson, MN plant to process and package the ash for resale to farmers. However, something happens to the ash when it is incinerated – the Nitrogen disappears, and the concentrations of P and K are increased.

From basic biology we learn that Nitrogen is essential to plant life. Chicken litter provides it, but Fibrowatt ash does not. So, if a farmer is forced to move to the ash as a fertilizer source, there will still be a requirement for a second application of N. It’s not efficient due to the double application, and fertilizer costs increase. The end result is more pressure on the farmers both in production costs and very likely in the margins they make from selling their products.

Phosphorus is a nutrient of extreme interest and the subject of much environmental regulation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Soils such as those in much of Virginia do not absorb the nutrient well, and there is a lot of wash off into the streams and rivers. This can be managed to an extent with riparian buffers, and proper timing of fertilizer. However, with a more concentrated application in the ash, it seems like the risks from this nutrient are only made worse, rather than improved.

I will leave aside the discussion about Potassium, except to say that it is present in all living cells, per Wikipedia, and essential to plant life. I am not aware of risks or cost impacts from its use – and welcome comments on the matter if readers are aware of any.

However, as with the input costs and revenue “squeeze” I discussed last week, here is another case where inserting Fibrowatt into the equation won’t create any benefits to farmers. It’s a great irony that the company markets itself to the agricultural sector as a “partner” – in Page County, Fibrowatt is even seen as a potential savior of the poultry industry – yet the economics of their impacts are increased costs and lower products. Their presence threatens the very existence of farming in the communities they are trying to go to!



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Farm and Municipal Scale Anaerobic Digesters

Today a short post – multi-media style – with some videos of anaerobic digesters that are built for farm-scale and municipal-scale operation. This continues the look at anaerobic digestion as a process to handle agricultural and other waste as an alternative to incinerator burning in a more traditional plant such as the ones Fibrowatt proposes to operate in the Shenandoah Valley and has installed in Benson, MN.

While both processes have their pros and cons, the conclusion I am drawing from these case studies is the amount of air pollution produced during the process is much lower with anaerobic digestion, while the outputs – electricity and byproducts – are essentially similar.

That said, here you go…two videos at US farms, one of a UK based municipal plant that uses food waste, and a fourth that uses plant waste – all of which are in operation and well established, so data for comparison should be readily available.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waste-to-energy Anaerobic Digestion - Continued

After finding the little video that shows the basics of how this process - an alternative to a Fibrowatt plant - works, I also found a second article that offers a pretty thorough look at digesters.  This one, entitled, Anaerobic Digestion of Animal Wastes: Factors to Consider, and written by John Balsam and Dave Ryan, can be found at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/anaerobic.html.  The article emphasizes farm-scale installations of the digester technology, types of systems, and practical considerations; there are also some additional references to other case studies.

The photo here is from a Wikipedia article, which you can find on the seach "poultry farming in the United States."

For highlights, it lists some of the benefits of using the digester process for electricity...
  • A well-insulated, three-bedroom home that requires 900,000 Btu/day for heating in cold weather could be served by 50 dairy cattle, 600 hogs, or 7,870 layers (assuming that around 35 percent of the biogas produced will be used to maintain the digester’s temperature).
  • A dairy using the national average of 550 kWh/cow/year could generate 70 percent of its electrical needs with biogas (assuming 20 percent generator efficiency and that around 35 percent of the biogas produced will be used to maintain the digester’s temperature).
  • A swine operation that uses about 55 kWh of electricity and 5.75 gallons of LP gas per hog per year (including feed mill and incinerator) could supply 40 percent of its energy needs with biogas (assuming 20 percent generator efficiency and that around 35 percent of the biogas produced will be used to maintain the digester’s temperature).
The article outlines the risks of this process, including the components of the biogas, which are worth taking a look at, then goes into some practical information about how to size the installation, along with factors to consider:
  • The specific benefits to be derived
  • The number and kind of animals to be served
  • Where the system might be placed
  • How the manure and other inputs will be collected and delivered to the system
  • How the required temperatures will be maintained
  • How all the risks associated with the process, some of which are substantial, will be mitigated
  • How the outputs will be handled
  • The amount of monitoring and management time required
The article closes with a nice cost-benefit calculation of two farm-scale installations:
  • Barham Farm: Covered Lagoon, costs $289,474, revenue $46,000 per/year
  • Martin Family Farm:  Covered Lagoon, costs $95,200, revenue $16,000 per/year
So perhaps I should append this information to my discussion of the economic impacts to farmers - here is a process that actually would return revenue to the family farm, rather than ratcheting up costs. For reference, here is a post on the Fibrowatt squeeze on local farmers:  http://hburgnews.com/2010/04/29/fibrowatt-the-farmer-squeeze/

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How a digester works

I found this YouTube posting about how the digesters work...thought I'd post it promptly...

Looks pretty simple.  Looks like not a whole lot of byproducts - and releases CO2 instead of all those more harmful oxides...

The Poultry Waste Anaerobic Digester: Yet Another Alternative to Fibrowatt

Last week we took a look at the gasification process as one alternative way to produce energy from poultry waste; this week we will take a look at a second way, called anaerobic digestion. Before I get into a review of this technology, I want to remind readers about the purpose of these posts: since we first encountered Fibrowatt in the Shenandoah Valley, the company has gone about attempting to convince us that they offer the only technology process that can deal with the quantities of poultry waste produced here – you can read about them by clicking the label Fibrowatt at the end of this post.

What we are learning is that there are alternatives, and that is another thing you will learn by clicking on the Fibrowatt label on this blog. Selection of that company based on their assertion that they have the only process, as some in Richmond would have us believe, will leave the Valley paying dearly with our quality of life, our health, and with longer term negative impacts* on the very farms that produce the litter.

A Google search on “Poultry Waster Digester” will deliver quite a few results, including academic research and plenty of case studies dating back to the 1980’s. I’ve picked an LA Times article from 2010 for this review, but before I do that, here is the Wikipedia definition of “anaerobic digestion:”

Anaerobic digestion is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or to release energy. …widely used as a renewable energy source because the process produces a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production, helping to replace fossil fuels. The nutrient-rich digestate which is also produced can be used as fertilizer. (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_digester, and the photo of the industrial plant in Germany, above, is also from there - this article will likely be the subject of a future post)

Further review of the Google results led me to a September 2010 LA Times article called “Poultry Waste to Power California Egg Farm,” where reporter Reed Fujii takes a look at a Stockton, CA farm that produces a million pounds of poultry waste a week. They have been using manure lagoons to manage all this before putting together plans for a digester – a process the neighbors have objected too, and one that doesn’t work within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The article is here: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/01/business/la-fi-poultry-power-20100901

Chris Brewer, a representative of California’s G3 Power Systems, said that the digester will create methane gas as a byproduct. The methane will be used by a fuel cell to generate electricity, with minimal emissions of nitrogen oxide or sulfur oxide. Similar to the gasification process, the cell’s own byproducts are sufficient to power itself once it begins operation. The exhaust gas is pretty much water vapor, according to Brewer. This digester was scheduled for start-up in early 2011.

Tomorrow I will take a look for some additional case studies and articles on this process. I’ve also sent an email to see if I can get an update on the installation at this egg farm.

* See http://hburgnews.com/2010/04/29/fibrowatt-the-farmer-squeeze  for a summary of posts on Fibrowatt’s economic impacts to poultry farmers

Monday, March 21, 2011

Surveying Alternatives to Fibrowatt with the SC Biomass Council

My research into energy from biomass alternatives – especially with regard to alternatives to the Fibrowatt approach – continues. One source of information is the work of the South Carolina Biomass Council, an organization that holds quarterly meetings where industry research, trends and other information is shared. From their website, here is what the organization is all about:

The SC Biomass Council serves as a resource for the general public and decision-makers about the environmental and economic benefits of biomass energy. Through solid policy development, South Carolina can be energy independent and generate a reliable, affordable, and green source of power cleanly and efficiently. You can find them for yourself at http://www.scbiomass.org/  …

I had a look at the planned agenda for the April 2011 meeting, which includes the following presentations:

• Swine Waste-to-Energy with Anaerobic Digester: Burrows Hall Farm, Williamsburg Co.
• Poultry Litter-to-Energy with Gasification: Marsh Farms, Darlington Co.
• Tree Waste-to-Energy with 50kW Gasifier: Tree farm, St. Helena Island
• Food Waste-to-Energy with Anaerobic Digester: Columbia, SC
• Manufacturing Small-Scale Biogas Cogenerators in South Carolina

The council includes a range of stakeholders, including the major power companies in the state of South Carolina. In looking back through the meetings and after a scan of members, I find no reference to Fibrowatt here. I can’t draw any conclusions from their lack of participation, but I do find it strange that on the Shenandoah Valley working group none of these alternatives have made it into the discussion yet. These alternatives don’t even seem to be on the table…yet Fibrowatt is there, despite the robust investment in research going on around the industry!

For the next round of research I am going to look into the anaerobic digester technology to see what I can find out about how it works, and pros and cons. Keep an eye out for the posts!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tech-watch Geek: The Suunto Core Everest Extreme (Again)

A short follow-up post on the Suunto Core Extreme Edition Everest watch that I reviewed in December (link to the original post at the end of this one)-

Last week, I stopped by one of the outfitters near my office, Eastern Mountain Sports, where I saw that they had one of the watches on display. They actually have a selection of 20 or so watches, along with other technical gear of that type. I asked the clerk to let me take a look, and so I have these photos to share.

First, a look at the watch face, bezel, and band: there is a high-viz orange finish on the bezel that makes this an attractive watch, and typical of the Suunto Core, the LCD display makes reading key data easy. Then on the reverse, there is the signature reproduced from Apa Sherpa, who has summated Everest 20 times and whom Suunto honored with this watch – this signature appears on all 8,800+ copies of this limited edition.

Looks nice…I remain sorely tempted!

As far as price goes, the outfitter had it at the recommended retail price of $399. Amazon, linked below, has it for slightly less (a couple of used watches are offered there at around $300).  I've found a couple of other vendors pricing it at the list of $399...a portion of the sales price benefits the remote village near the Everest Base Camp, so I wouldn't expect any discounts on this limited edition...Happy shopping!

Here is the link to my original post on the Suunto Core Everest Extreme edition:


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Wild Rover -

Poultry Waste Gasification - Part 2

Last year I found the article, “Could Chicken Manure Help Curb Climate Change” in the USA Today paper; it was written by Brian Winter, and there is a link below. It’s an interesting case study of a farm-scale application, which may serve as the proof of concept for larger scale, industrial plants. The graphic accompanying this post was part of the article.

This is part two of the gasification posts, following up on last Friday’s which is here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/03/poultry-waste-gasification-part-1.html

Essentially, the graphic is an overview of the gasification process, where manure is feed into a gasifier and heated to high temperature, producing gas that can be used as fuel for other purposes – heating chicken houses in this case – and also producing biochar, the as product that can be used as fertilizer.

The article highlights the process’s advantages in reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that is attributed to rising temperatures, reduced visibility, and other pollution-related impacts.

A feature of the gasification heating is a low oxygen approach – the article says that this means no smoke or odor from this stage of the process. This is the advantage gasification seems to offer over burning/incinerating processes such as the one used in Fibrowatt plants. However, while the process has a low impact in smaller-scale applications, there is still the problem of logistics – hauling the waste material to the plant – in the larger scale applications that might be proposed.

The USA Today article can be found here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/environment/2010-02-10-cheap-carbon_N.htm

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Page County Grown Update

I’ve been posting on the Page County Grown initiative, which is an effort that is getting organized to bring a focus to local producers – and consumers – in the Page County area. I’ll continue to get updates, but last week was especially exciting as David Sours sent me a note about the new logo that the group has adopted, shown here. Meanwhile, work is continuing on developing the process for farmers and producers to become certified as a Page County Grown farm.

David reports:

“A lot of work has been done over the last several weeks by many people to help get this organization off the ground. Page County Grown is moving forward and I believe we have a very bright future ahead of us. I want everyone to keep an eye out for this logo in the upcoming season. When you see this logo you will know that the product was PRODUCED in PAGE COUNTY!!!!! We also hope to launch our website in the near future as well.”

Other parts of the strategy will be publications and communications efforts that will inform consumers where the products are available. David told me that a wide range of people has been part of getting Page County Grown this far along: farmers, chefs, school system representatives the Luray-Page Chamber, citizens, industry, and finance organizations. They worked hard and some long hours, but they’ve already got a lot to show for the effort. Here’s looking forward to more news during this growing season!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Smiley

Looks like my routine has been interrupted for the day, maybe a day or two here.  Mary and I adopted a rescue border collie over the weekend.

I'll post more about the rescue experience soon, including information about the three organizations we worked with to find our new dog.  Meanwhile, we are working on getting a new routine together with walks, feedings, and "business"...

But we did already have some adventures together.  Yesterday when we were out on the brick terrace, somebody decided she needed one of the camp chairs for herself, as you can see.

Also, there was some excitement as a herd of five deers passed through the woods near the house.  They popped out down on the road.  There was a very intense, "border collie at work" monitoring of that action.

We had one other adventure to share - we made a late stop at Wisteria for a visit with Moussa and Sue (there are lots of things to look forward to this spring at the vineyard!)  While Mary and I enjoyed a glass of wine (the Merlot "Wild" for Mary and the steel barrel fermented Chardonnay for me) - Tessie, who was called Jessie in rescue, go to take a look at the sheeps and chickens out in the pasture.  Doggie fun!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Poultry Waste Gasification - Part 1

This morning we’ll start looking at alternatives to burning poultry litter as a fuel for generating electricity. My goal is to get a sense of how these alternatives compare with the Fibrowatt process…while I am just beginning to do this research, there will be a bit of learning and a discovery process.

The first approach I want to take a look at is gasification – a process that involves heating organic waste material to a point where it produces gas, which in turn becomes a fuel for the generator. I have a couple of reports that I’ve scanned through, and the links are below.

One of the reports show the following as the advantages of thermal heating produced using gasification:

• Steam production for space and process heating
• Electrical energy generation
• Heating of grow-out houses (poultry facilities)
• Producing chilled water for grow-out house cooling

The first item is the report of a gasification demonstration in Michigan, which used turkey litter as the fuel. The report is credited to a firm called Recovered Energy Resources, Inc., located in Washington, VA. Maybe I’ll make some time to find out more about these “locals” in the future, but for now, their web page is parked, although I do find an active yellow pages listing. One of the listings I found for them said they specialize in gasification based Biomass-to-Energy Power Plants in the Range of 1 - 10 MW.

The test was done in Michigan, working with Xcel Energy, and the date of the report is 2006. As late as 2010, Xcel reported that they were still in the process of converting three coal plants to gasification plants; however, I found a press release from November 2010 that says progress is halted due to costs. On the “coincidence, I think not front” it also happens that these decisions were made after the November 2010 elections.

Here is a straightforward reporting of the results of the poultry litter gasification test:

They monitored the emission of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and sulfur dioxide – all components of air pollution or greenhouse gas. Their reports show “exceptionally low” output for nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, probably the worst of these by-products. There were visible calcium emissions, which they say are easily controlled.

The ash from this process was deemed to be of a fine, powdery composition – some of the other methods produce “clinkers” or chunks of ash, a high percentage of phosphorus, which makes it potentially saleable, and easy to handle while removing it from the gasifier.

So, on first pass, here is an alternative to Fibrowatt that could be applied to the poultry waste problem. Clearer, it is a scalable application, meaning that it could be used at the farm level, but offers the possibility of industrial-scale application as in the Xcel Energy case. But what I haven’t found yet is the total impact of those emissions, as in how much there is – if we are talking tradeoffs, then what might make this a better or worse technology than Fibrowatt’s?

I haven’t gotten far into how the process works with this one yet either. So I will look for that sort of material next: how does it work?

The test results source is here: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-ess-p2-ag-workshop-ppt-Schneider-PoultryLitter_192728_7.pdf
Wikipedia article on Xcel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xcel_Energy
Press release on halting the Xcel Plant: http://www.jsonline.com/business/111018219.html

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Poultry waste to energy: alternatives to Fibrowatt

I have been gathering some information on alternative methods for producing energy from poultry litter since I first came across the Fibrowatt proposal last year. In Page County, when we first encountered the company, we got a saturated message that made it sound like their process is the only solution.  There are some alternatives, and these technologies appear to offer scalable solutions – they can be installed down to the single farm level, with the possibility of being increased to larger-sized operations. Like any technology that deals with industrial scale waste, which is effectively what we are talking about with poultry litter, they come with trade-offs; still it seems worthwhile to check them out.

So over the next few posts I will be reviewing some of this material and posting summaries on the blog. While I am educating myself on them, I'll refer to the technologies as:

  • Biochar – a process that heats the waste at a low temperature, providing heat for local use and a by-product, the char, that can be used as a fertilizer, with the benefit of long-term storage of carbon dioxide
  • Gasification – a process that uses heat to treat the waste, producing a gas fuel the feeds the process itself and heat that can be used in a variety of applications. There are by-products, my research will look into what they are and alternatives for using them.
I have case study material from South Carolina, Michigan, and West Virginia to go through here – what it says to me is there is no need to rush ahead with the proposed Fibrowatt approach. Virginia’s working group should be sure to take a look at these alternatives as well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Camp Hoover: A Moderate SNP Day Hike

My hiking group decided that this hike, the Camp Rapidan/Camp Hoover hike, would be a goal for us this weekend, offering an alternative from the GWNF routes we’ve been doing the last few years. Also, this hike would become the first of my “75 @ 75 Project” hikes. In the end, only Chris could join me, but we’re looking forward to several more outings to come.

For the last year or so, we’ve gradually become aware that 2011 is the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park. After completing those “Easy Day Hikes” last year I’ve been looking for a new project in the Park, I’ve decided to take inspiration from the anniversary and set a goal of hiking 75 miles in the Park this year – thus, the 75 @ 75 Project.

To start out the spring hiking season we were looking for an alternative to our normal GWNF hikes, since Crissman Hollow Road over there is closed until April. We chose the Camp Hoover Hike from Hiking Upward (URL below*), which the site describes as 7.6 miles with 1,320 feet of elevation gain. The Heatwole guide lists the trail version we took as 7.4 miles with 1,520 feet of elevation gain, so take your pick unless you’re measuring it yourself – in either case, I consider this a moderate outing…and a pleasant one.

Heatwole** also lists a shorter, slightly steeper hike of 4.1 miles and 870 feet of elevation gain; this one is in the Easy Day Hikes book and Mary and I had taken it before. Both of these hikes begin at the Milam Gap Parking area, mile 52.8 on Skyline Drive, just a few miles south of Big Meadows. If your group is short on time, or if there are children in the group, this second route offers a pleasant hiking adventure.

After driving along Skyline Drive from Thornton Gap, and encountering the remnants of the ice falls on Stonyman, this hiking adventure begins at the parking area. There are quite a few old apple trees and a split rail fence here, reminders that the area was settled before the Park was established in 1936. There’s a book about Camp Hoover available at Big Meadows, it provides a lot of detail about this area before the president took an interest in setting up his getaway.

Our route took us along the Laurel Prong route, so we started with a 2-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. It gently climbs along a ridge, gradually becoming steeper as you approach the summit of Hazeltop Mountain, the third highest peak in the Park at 3,812 feet or so. After enjoying the views along a straight stretch of the AT, shown in the photo, there is an overlook close to the summit, but it was obscured by fog on our hike.

Since there were no views to be had, I took a couple of photos of the rocks along the ridge, and one of a fir tree. I’ve read that the firs at these altitudes are at the far southern reach of their natural range – that’s some research I need to get back to. In any case we had a fine specimen here.

Soon after the summit, you’ll reach a concrete post where the blue blazed Laurel Prong trail intersects the AT. For the next two miles or so, you’ll gradually descend along the east side of Hazeltop before an intersection with a yellow blazed fire road and horse trail that leads to Camp Hoover. There are stands of rhododendron here if you are lucky enough to catch them in bloom, and the area includes several minor stream crossings and second growth woods from past clearings – either settlements, or areas that supported the presidential retreat.

Finally you arrive at the Camp Hoover area, where there are still three buildings left from its heyday. There is an historic marker and plenty of interpretive signage and the Prime Minister’s Cabin is set up with a museum that is seasonally open. You can check at the Big Meadows Visitor Center for ranger programs here – our friend Sally is one of the rangers that guides those visits from time to time. The other two buildings left are The President, where Hoover and his wife Lou stayed when they were at the camp, and the Creel, which is where his aides stayed (it is now used by in residence docents, who stay the season in the building).

Chris and I had lunch on one of the terraces and explored the site. There were a couple of trout fisherman hanging around – well geared up, but doing catch and release. It is one of the features of this area that the Laurel Prong and Mill Prong confluence, just below The President, becomes the Rapidan River here and joins the Rappahannock downstream. You can imagine the cheerful sound of these streams providing a restful backdrop to the pressures of Washington in the throes of the Great Depression.

For our route, we decided to climb out of the hollow via the Mill Prong route, another 2 miles or so uphill. A final treat was there to greet us: Big Rock Falls, which was going strong in late winter. The stream itself had a good flow going, so the cascades and eddies were good accompaniment to the climb.

After leaving the White House, Hoover donated the camp to the effort to form the Park. It has been used as a scout camp, and there are some photos of that era around, but I think those activities ended in the 1960’s. Today it is still used for some official functions, but mainly it is a reminder of the 1930’s era and the history of Hoover’s presidency.

I remembered my Pathfinder watch this time, and kept a simple record of the hike, as follows:

  • Trail head: 865 meters/2,682 feet
  • Hazeltop Summit: 1,050 meters/3,255 feet
  • Camp Hoover: 655 meters/2,031 feet
I recorded a total elevation gain of approximately 1,224 feet, since I didn’t calibrate the watch on the route, the difference in my records from the other sources is typical.

* http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/CampHoover    
** Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, 4th edition, by Henry Heatwole – now also available as a web resource

Monday, March 7, 2011

Repost: An Open Letter to Fibrowatt

The second poultry litter to energy working group meeting has been scheduled for 1:00pm Monday, March 28, 2011 at the DEQ office in Harrisonburg (address and directions: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/regions/valley.html ). Continuing on the topic of Fibrowatt for today, I am reposting from the archives an “Open Letter to Fibrowatt.” I wrote this post after an exchange with Terry Walmsley of Fibrowatt, where he accused me of spreading misinformation on my blog about his company.

The irony of that accusation was that most of the material I originally referred to comes from the Fibrowatt web site. There are plenty of alternative locations where you can find information about the company or its practices, however, my initial research in March 2010 was drawn from their own information sources.

Page County and the rest of the Shenandoah Valley are enjoying the beginning of an active tourism boom, which celebrates outdoors activities. From Roanoke to Front Royal there are hundreds of events in this sector – marathons, fun runs, endurance bike races, etc. – that one could logically expect to be harmed by such a prominent and visible source of air pollution. In Page County’s case, where employment has been a chronic challenge, active tourism has been among the bright spots; while a Fibrowatt plant located there might have an impact from adding a few jobs, it would certainly offset those gains with losses in the tourism sector.

Here is the repost, with a few edits for brevity.


As I mentioned privately last week, I appreciate your candor and support in the research. I'm disappointed now that [you'll] be calling into question the language I use to describe the potential impacts of industrial uses of land that is currently open farmland and part of the overall character of Page County.

I gave you and Fibrowatt a fair shake and treated the research with an arm's length approach. While I read the press and other side's perspective, I avoided the use of the word "incinerator" to describe the furnace process. I have argued here that maybe Fibrowatt's process is part of a solution that bridges the fossil fuel society we currently are to a sustainable zero impact society of the future. I have come to a fairly complex conclusion and stand on middle ground about this prospect.

In the end I didn't even draw on the Yadkin River Keeper or the other Fibrowatch material to make my decision. The "alleged" shake-down violation and "alleged" late compliance with self reporting that I read about on your own site led me to the Minnesota permitting document and the list of what's allowed in the plume coming out of the 300-foot stack.

…readers can imagine for themselves the impact a plant [in Page County] will have on tourism...since Shenandoah National Park attracts 1 million visits annually and Luray Caverns another half million; and we now have 3 triathlons, 2 state level bike races, and quite a few 5 and 10Ks going on in the area, I think the impact of a 300 foot stack and a plume - no matter how benign one might say that plume is - will have a very serious impact on a County that has [no other economic advantage]. Have you modeled the economic impact your plant would have on these industries upon its prospective arrival?

Those triathlons would end when groundbreaking occurs. That means several hundred room nights and meals go up in smoke, since the tri-athletes come for the weekend and enjoy the area before and after their event.

Now, I don't hold [Fibrowatt] entirely responsible for this potential impact - it is [Page County EDA] that is trying to change the balance with the discussions you are now having.

I'll stand by my descriptions. I have written my stand against any industrial use of the [proposed Page County location] long before I heard about Fibrowatt. Any industrial use of that site is going to have a devastating impact on the Page County economy - including a Fibrowatt plant.

"Cabin Jim"

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Fibrowatt Trade-off: Air Pollution for Water Pollution

Fibrowatt's Minnesota Plant
Yesterday I wrote that in my opinion, establishing a Fibrowatt plant in the Valley as a way to dispose of animal waste and by-products – specifically chicken litter, with the thought that this was an effective way to deal with downstream problems in the Chesapeake Bay, was simply exchanging a water pollution problem with an air pollution problem. If this is not true, why is a 300-foot stack necessary?

Last winter, when the Fibrowatt proposal first came up, I did a lot of research, thoroughly reading everything I could about the company, mainly on its own web page. I engaged Terry Walmsley, one of the company’s officials, in a dialog to learn more, and even have published a number of his explanations on this blog. You’ll find them under the label “Fibrowatt” associated with this post, or in the column over on the right hand side of the blog.

What compels me to write about Fibrowatt today? In the Waste-to-Energy Working Group meeting notes I’ve been reading, I saw the comment, “…deal with the misinformation that is out there” as one of the strategies for that working group. I recognize the quote as almost verbatim from comments that Terry made on the blog – a post I will go back over on Monday. For now, I want to repost what I found when I looked into air pollution violations at Fibrowatt’s acclaimed Minnesota plant – my purpose is to inform readers about my opinion that a Fibrowatt plant simply trades off one form of pollution for another. The summary of a past post follows:

Estimated line of sight to the proposed Fibrowatt plant from the Luray Caverns parking lot.
Following up on a conversation I had with Benson, MN officials, I thought I would look further into the reference to emissions problems at the Fibrowatt plant there. The permitting documents describe a range of chemical compounds and proscribe “acceptable” amounts of them in emissions – an issue to carefully weigh against any promise of new jobs. There was a citation during commissioning and shakedown operations at the Fibrowatt plant, and a resulting agreement by Fibrowatt to pay a fine and upgrade their equipment.

The Minnesota incident is reported on the Fibrowatt website under the headline, “MPCA & Fibrominn Settle Issues Related to 2008 Notice of Violation,” which says that Fibrominn and the MPCA have reached a Compliance Agreement that resolves alleged violations largely related to the startup, commissioning, and equipment and system optimization (”shakedown”) of the Fibrominn Biomass Power Plant in Benson, Minnesota. The compliance or stipulation agreement is often used to achieve compliance with environmental laws. These agreements consider whether violations are first time incidents or repeat violations, reporting promptness, seriousness of the environmental impact, and then assess fines and prescribe corrective actions.

Noting the use of the word “alleged” on the Fibrowatt page, I took a moment to ensure that I knew the definition; alleged has three definitions on the Webster.com site: asserted to be true or to exist, questionably true or of a specified kind, or accused but not proven or convicted. My take on this is the third definition applies, and the stipulation agreement stopped the process from going further, which may have resulted in a finding of violation or conviction - I am pretty sure that the record in Minnesota would show that the chemicals were present, so the question becomes more about whether this was a spontaneous incident or accidental. (2011 note: given Fibrowatt’s insistence that the agreement include the word “alleged” invites scrutiny of the word “misinformation” used in the working group notes, doesn’t it?)

I’ve scanned the Minnesota permit, and understand what the output of biomass combustion or incineration is comprised of – but I’ll quote from a New York Times article, which was written about a proposed Fibrowatt plant in Maryland: “…according to its air permits, the plant is a major source of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrogen sulfide.” In the permit itself, several other emissions are noted, including sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid.

The next step for me was to take a look at the risks associated with these outputs, and I consulted the Wikipedia articles on them. Here I have not sourced the Wikipedia articles specifically, but you could perform the same search using the chemical names below. In each case, there is a lot of technical information about the components, various uses, and risks from the chemicals. It turns out that many of these compounds are greenhouse gases, meaning they will impact visibility and have a long-term impact on the larger environment. But some of them are used as industrial corrosives and are also identified as health risks. Consider the following from Wikipedia:

• “Sulfur dioxide is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death.”
• “Sulfuric acid is a component of acid rain, and is highly corrosive.”
• “Hydrochloric acid - Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines.”
• “Carbon monoxide is a major atmospheric pollutant in some urban areas, chiefly from the exhaust of internal combustion engines (including vehicles, portable and back-up generators, lawn mowers, power washers, etc.), but also from improper burning of various other fuels (including wood, coal, charcoal, oil, paraffin, propane, natural gas, and trash).”
• Finally, nitrous oxide was also noted to be a greenhouse gas.

Frankly, this is the trade off of the Fibrowatt plant. It may help mitigate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, but the presence of these chemicals in the plant’s emissions means we get air pollution in exchange for that. Fibrowatt says it will be a good neighbor and try to control this pollution, but it was cited for them in Minnesota. They may have taken corrective action, but that doesn’t eliminate the risks of accidents, or the likely increased level of output during plant maintenance periods and restarts after downtimes.

This is a summary of the original post, which is located here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/02/fibrowatt-plant-as-potential-source-of.html

That post has links to the sources I’ve referenced above.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Waste-to-Energy Working Group Meeting, Part 2

Photograph of Fibrowatt's Minnesota plant.
 At the risk of over-summarizing the discussion at the work group, this (long, 1,000 words +) second post will highlight a couple of the topics of discussion that took place there. As a reminder, the next work session will take place in Harrisonburg, acknowledging that we are talking about a Valley issue here, and not a Piedmont issue…and you can find the full set of notes that I am working from on the Page County Blog at http://pagecountyblog.com/poultry-litter-meeting  (there’s also a recording of the work session there).  A full history of Hawksbill Cabin posts can be found by clicking the Fibrowatt label below.

On further review, the discussion points this panel is pushing around makes it sound like a Fibrowatt plant is the only way to go as far as addressing the chicken litter waste problem. At its simplest, the Fibrowatt concept only trades off water pollution for air pollution. That’s why communities where these projects have been proposed, like Page County – locations in Georgia, North Carolina, and now Delmarva – are rejecting the proposals.

It remains surprising to me that our governor has chartered this meeting without including alternative energy from litter approaches at the table. As second thought that comes to mind is the absence from tourism industry participants beyond the NPS representation.

Now back to the meeting notes – here is a summary of the questions this study will attempt to address.

• The study is supposed to determine net nutrient load reduction levels - taking into account reductions from litter-to-energy system as well as potential new load from replacing land application with commercial fertilizers.
• The study will analyze effects from emission deposition on the Chesapeake Bay watershed and effects on Shenandoah National Park air quality.
• The study will analyze various waste ash handling options to determine impact on Chesapeake Bay watershed.
• The study will analyze and compare costs of alternative solutions for nutrient reductions in the Shenandoah-Potomac watershed.

Once these basic scope questions were discussed, the session moved onto other topics, including a straightforward listing of the concerns of the stakeholders at the table. There was also a brainstorming session of ideas that might serve to flesh out the study, but due to space constraints I can’t include that full discussion; instead I will summarize after this list of concerns.

• Something needs to be done to improve water quality. Removing 75,000 tons of poultry litter/yr has already been determined as a necessary action.
• Must look at how this alternative affects air quality.
• What are the net impacts if 150,000 tons of poultry litter is removed from the watershed but replaced with commercial grade fertilizer? What are the impacts to the air from the current land application practices? There must be some ammonia currently going into the air with land application. What is the net environmental benefit of using litter as fertilizer versus using litter for energy? Will litter be replaced with commercial fertilizers? How much nitrogen and phosphorus is removed from agricultural application as litter vs. replaced by commercial fertilizer?
• What are the benefits to the Shenandoah River? Look at algae and odor as parameters. Is there an issue with the pesticides in the wood chips that might be burned? Is arsenic an issue?
• What is the sustainability of the fuel? Can emissions be determined from a pilot scale project, and then scaled up? What is the heating value of the fuel, compared to heating value of other fuels? What type of regulations does EPA have on this type of Biomass? Is Bio-char good for the soil? Look at emission depositions, and how it affects the soil. Analyze micro incineration emission as well as emissions from transportation.
• Arsenic has not been attributed to fish kills in the region. DCR has already evaluated the arsenic issue, and determined the poultry industry is not at fault. The poultry growers have nutrient management plans. Litter that is land applied must meet regulatory requirements as well. Who has measured the amount of N and P not making it into streams?
• Bay model is being revised. Make sure research is accurate, reflecting the latest models.
• Comparison of effects that ammonia emissions have on air and water when land applied versus effect on air and water from emissions coming from a large centralized waste-to-energy plant. Also must incorporate effects of the nutrient trading program (HB1102). If nutrients are being reduced in the agricultural sector, they should get the credit.
• Review agro economics of phosphorous and nitrogen.
• Review unintended consequences of each of the alternative solutions. We have baseline information on existing air quality and TMDLs; consider the information we already have.
• What happens to the chemical composition of the Nitrogen, Sulfur, Copper and other pollutants from poultry litter in a high heat environment? Are dioxin and furan an issue?
• Arsenic should be reviewed to rule it out as an issue. Also, need to evaluate how much poultry litter is currently being land applied and use math to determine what the actual excess amount available as potential fuel is.
• Evaluate why Fibrowatt was able to build in Minnesota, but is not having success in the Eastern Shore.
• Also, need to look at potential regulatory changes, such as the nutrient trading program, that might affect pricing, and the overall economics of any such project.
• Fibrowatt’s work on the Delmarva Peninsula is complicated since Fibrowatt needs to find a long term PPA. The Company is also evaluating what to do with the ash.
• Look at current legislative measure that might be outlawing phosphorous in fertilizer.
• Find the chemical composition of the ash.

Here’s a summary of the brainstorming list – actually, just highlights I’ve chosen. It seems like the panel seeks balance in some of these concerns despite the presence of Fibrowatt at the table. The question in my mind remains – why are they the only technology represented at the table here, when alternatives are available – efficient, scalable alternatives, that do not require so much public underwriting. At least those are questions the panel raised in this discussion.

• Can this study be funded for and produced by Universities and technical experts who are objective and have no stake in the outcomes?
• Should the study consider incineration technology only?
• Which technology will be used for the project and how will alternative technologies be evaluated?
• Can other biomass be included in addition to poultry litter?
• What scale? Centralized (large) or on-farm (small) and associated transportation issues?
• Evaluate other smaller, decentralized solutions?
• What are the costs of alternative solutions?
• Change the location of the next advisory meeting to Valley to increasing transparency?

Over the next few weeks, I am going to work on getting a few posts up about the alternatives to Fibrowatt for waste-to-energy plants. It was an oversight not to include them during the discussions last year – so we’ll correct that ASAP.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Waste-to-Energy Working Group Meeting, Part 1

A front-page article in the PN&C February 17, 2011 issue says “The Commonwealth of Virginia wants to know from if the Shenandoah Valley would be an ideal place for a power plant that converts animal waste from poultry farms into electricity.” With that idea in mind, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) convened a meeting in Charlottesville to initiate a study with the goal of finding a way to reduce the nutrient pollution that comes from animal wastes in the watershed without increasing air pollution.

This article generated Delegate Gilbert's letter to the editor in the next week's PN&C, which I posted on yesterday.

After reviewing the notes I received from the initial meeting, it appears I’ll need two posts to cover the topic in enough detail. I’ll also ask the folks over at the Page County blog to make an MS Word version of the notes available for download, and then will publish the link here. Today I’ll cover the purpose of the group, an overview of the meeting process, and attendees; tomorrow, I’ll dig a bit further on the issues that were raised during the commentary.

When I first opened the email with these notes, and then I scanned the attendees on the official list, two questions came to mind…I’m simply going to ask them rhetorically. First – and this is a question that was raised by many people – if the concerns are centered on the Valley and the discussion is about locating a plant here, why was the meeting in Charlottesville? Second, Terry Walmsley of Fibrowatt was invited to participate in the panel, while no other (competing) technologies were represented equally – why is that?

The concerns about the non-Valley location have resulted in the decision to have the second meeting in Harrisonburg, at the location here: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/regions/valley.html. The closing remarks from the first meeting invites comments and questions, which are due by March 3. I’ll see if I can find an email address or street address for those and post it.

Now on to summarizing the notes from the meeting.

Rick Weeks, from DEQ and panel co-advisor, provided opening remarks by explaining the group’s purpose: to develop a scope for a study focusing on how siting a waste-to-energy poultry litter facility in the Shenandoah Valley will impact/benefit air quality and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. He advised the group to look at what questions need to be answered to determine if a project like this will work, and the group dug into questions on this topic later in the meeting.

The following people were identified as the panel:

  • Jeff Corbin - Senior Advisor to US Environmental Protection Agency, Region III
  • Katie Frazier - Agribusiness Council
  • Don "Robin" Sullenberger - Shenandoah Valley Partnership
  • Darrell Marshall – Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • Martha Bogle and Jim Schaberl - Shenandoah National Park Service
  • Angela Navarro – Southern Environmental Law Center
  • Terry Walmsley – Fibrowatt
  • Kristen Hughes – Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Mark Dubin - Chesapeake Bay Program
  • Tony Banks – Virginia Farm Bureau
  • Hobey Bauhan - Virginia Poultry Federation
  • Tim Moore – Virginia Military Institute
  • Jeff Kelble - Shenandoah Riverkeeper
  • Emil Avram – Dominion
  • Jim Pease – Virginia Tech
  • Dave Frackelton - Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) council
  • Susan Bulbulkaya - Chesapeake Bay Commission
As I mentioned above, I will summarize the discussion the panel had in a post tomorrow. Jumping ahead, I will simply cut-and-paste the Q&A portion of the meeting. Despite the Charlottesville location, at least three Page County – Shenandoah Valley residents – were in attendance, and they offered remarks and observations. In addition, the audience included people interested in other waste-to-energy technologies, alternatives to incineration; and there were requests for additional statistical information about the amount of waste and its impact – and the potential impact of an incinerator-based plant on air quality, based on the violations the Minnesota Fibrowatt plant experienced.

  • Lee McWhorter – a citizen from Page County: Objects to burning of poultry litter as the pine shavings, when burned, release Dioxin and Furan. He is a Vietnam Veteran on disability for being exposed to Agent Orange. Public health is a major concern with the burning of the litter. He suggests we stabilize the litter for safe land application. He mentioned that in Page County, Fibrowatt was kicked out, and the Economic Development Authority was fired.
  • Josh Frye - Owns a poultry gasification process in West Virginia: The Bio-Char byproduct is an activated carbon that can be used to clean water and air (mentioned land reclamation). The Nitrogen and Phosphorous is stabilized so it is safe for land application. These systems can produce income for the growers. He suggests forming small cooperatives in various parts of the region where such a unit can be used by various growers.
  • Joy Lorien – a citizen who works in the Shenandoah National Park area:  Has seen air quality deteriorate over the past 30 years. Can no longer see Massenuten Mountain from the SNP. Citizens of Page County do not want an incinerator at the foot of their mountain. She also stated there are a lot of empty chicken houses in page County now. Concerned about arsenic that is fed to chickens to get rid of parasites.
  • Mike Waver - President of Poultry Growers organization. States this issue is a regional issue, not just a Virginia issue. Mentioned that the Minnesota plant had air emission issues. Concerned that no poultry growers were asked to participate. His organization is meeting next week to discuss a pilot project that will look at bio-char or composting of litter. Economic impacts to growers must be evaluated.
  • J.D. Cave – Page County Board of Supervisors: Asks that the next meeting be held in the Valley. Page County does not want a Fibrowatt Plant.
  • Dave Libble from the Eastern Shore: Requests for Fibrowatt to share some of its information on fertilizer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Revisiting Fibrowatt - One Year Later

Page County readers have started to see a few indications that the Commonwealth of Virginia is still considering the use of electricity generated by poultry waste, which are sometimes called litter incinerators. Then approximately two weeks ago, a meeting with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation held a meeting on a similar topic in Charlottesville.

I have a copy of the minutes from that meeting, which I will summarize in a post tomorrow. However, the presence of Fibrowatt’s Terry Walmsley at the table caused my eyebrows to raise, and I am sure I am not the only one. Honestly, it seemed for a time that all the work those many Page County residents put in last year to understand what a Fibrowatt plant would mean to our quality of life, and the Board of Supervisors’s letter of “thanks but no thanks” was being ignored by the governor and his administration - and I honestly had to question whether this governor had sold out to special interests.

The significance of the meeting being held in Charlottesville wasn’t lost on our delegate, Todd Gilbert, who sent a letter to the PN&C editor outlining his position and his commitment to representing us in the matter.

I am reprinting the letter here (thanks to Keith for getting up on the Page County blog so quickly!). The PN&C has the headline as:

Gilbert: I will continue to say “No” to Fibrowatt Plant
Delegate thinks Charlottesville meeting may have been held outside Valley to avoid public scrutiny.

Dear Editor,

Recently, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Conservation and Recreation sponsored a meeting in Charlottesville. The purpose of the meeting was to begin the process
to determine if the Shenandoah Valley would be suitable for placement of an industrial plant that would burn poultry litter in a process that would generate electric power.

I question why the meeting was held in Charlottesville, clearly not located in the Valley; a more convenient location for Valley farmers, elected officials and other stakeholders would have been the DEQ offices in Harrisonburg, in the very heart of the agricultural Shenandoah Valley. The reason for the location likely has much to do with avoiding public scrutiny.

Since the meeting, I have received communications from constituents questioning if the Charlottesville meeting was the start of a procedure to force the poultry litter incinerator on the citizens of Page or Shenandoah County. I have been told that the meeting was the beginning of a study only.

When I first heard of the Fibrowatt project, it almost sounded too good to be true. It would have provided
a few jobs, taken poultry litter off the hands of our farmers, generated some electric power and ensured fewer nutrients were making it into the Chesapeake Bay. What I have since learned about the proposed project and its 300 foot smoke stack spewing Lord-knows-what into the air quickly led me to the conclusion that this was not a good fit for us.

Regardless of the reasons for the meeting or its Charlottesville setting, I would like to assure my constituents that I will continue to oppose the construction of a Fibrowatt plant or other such contraption in our counties now, tomorrow, and as long as I represent the 15th House District.

Delegate C. Todd Gilbert
Virginia House of Delegates

I have yet to thank the delegate for this letter, a shortcoming I will take care of right away.  He has a Facebook page, for those who might like to pass along a note of support on this issue as well. 

For tomorrow’s post, I’ll summarize the notes I was passed along from the Charlottesville meeting.