Hurst Boiler News

A Better Way to Generate Biomass Power

Hurst Boiler | October 29, 2020

The conventional way of distributing power, from production to customer consumption, is akin to moving water from one pond to another using a bucket riddled with holes. The inevitable leakage that occurs through this process of power distribution is highly inefficient and means the loss of potentially useful energy.

Biomass Energy Island installation at Carolina Poultry Project by Hurst Boiler and PRG

It is for this reason that we believe in co-locating biomass facilities close to the ultimate end users of power. Moreover, as a society grappling with the uncertainty of energy markets, we now have compelling reasons to supplement the conventional fuels used for centuries with the multiple alternatives in abundance around us. These new fuels include agricultural waste, wood, bark, agave fiber, rice husk, chicken manure, sugar cane bagasse, king grass, MSW, construction debris, nuts, shells, husks, paper, card/board products, plastic, hog fuel, sawdust, shavings, and sludge.

Traditionally dismissed as waste or rubbish, these products are a source of abundant, untapped energy. The old way of doing things has contributed negatively to the world around us, to our personal and public health, the environment, and our wallets. Hurst believes in reducing that harmful impact by producing energy from novel fuel sources in need of disposal. Fueling industry from the waste that is prevalent all around us and continuously being produced is, simply put, a no-brainer.

The transition from inefficient, finite fuel sources operating within a centralized paradigm to efficient fuel systems with distributed generation, is affordable now. We have reached the watershed tipping point of price parity, making these new fuel sources the next rational stage of energy use for industry.

Biomass-to-energy conversion uses heat and oxygen to create energy in the form of steam or hot water that is then used as electricity for co-located industrial facilities. The system utilizes extremely robust, long-proven emissions technologies that maximize the production of usable energy while producing minimal emissions compliant with the strictest environmental regulations. As an added environmental benefit, using particular animal wastes as a biomass fuel also avoids the methane emissions that would have inevitably resulted from the decomposition of such material had it not been utilized as fuel. Price parity between renewables and carbon-based fuel, a watershed moment historically impeded by mature technology and conventional regulatory and finance structures, has now arrived. No longer a hopeful vision for the future, the renewed energy economy now promises to deliver this new paradigm. Until recently, the use of waste streams for energy has been the most challenging piece of this puzzle.

Hurst Boiler, based in Georgia, US, has participated in wood waste biomass projects since its inception in 1967 and has recently partnered with Power Resource Group (PRG). Together, they have constructed a $30 million (€27.2 million), 200 tons-per-day (tpd) poultry litter-to-energy plant near the PRG headquarters in Farmville, North Carolina (NC). A second site using the same technology is in development, as well as another facility located outside of NC.

Carolina Poultry Project Biomass Installation in Farmville, North Carolina, US

The Carolina Poultry Power Project (CPP)

North Carolina enjoys the economic benefits of an extensive agricultural infrastructure. Indeed, six counties in eastern NC produce one-sixth of the entire animal protein production of the US. As a result, however, NC also suffers from the waste that is the unavoidable byproduct of this impressive production. This waste, even when re-used as fertilizer, finds its way into waterways, rivers, and sounds, producing massive chemical overloads and posing numerous environmental and health hazards.

The Hurst/PRG CPP is part of the solution to that problem. Utilizing a variety of long-term revenue sources from utilities, industrial energy off-takers, and fertilizer suppliers, CPP processes 200 tpd of poultry litter into high-quality fuel. Using a highly regulated gasification system and a robust emissions control protocol, this fuel is then transformed into approximately 165,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year and heating energy in the form of hot water for use by local industry.

The $30 million (€27.2 million) Farmville plant went online in August 2019, converting turkey waste into electricity that is sold to the state’s utilities. It is the result of NC’s pace-setting effort, approved in 2007, that requires utilities to obtain a significant amount of their energy from renewable sources. It’s not the first or biggest of such poultry waste energy plants, but it’s an impressive story of persistence.

The project will consume more than 230 tpd of poultry litter to generate enough energy to fuel around 13,000 homes, Rich Demming, CEO of PRG estimates. The litter is processed at a farm 20 miles away in LaGrange, NC. North Carolina ranks among the nation’s key poultry production states with more than 39,000 employees. Much poultry waste is now used by farmers as fertilizer, a process that previously sparked some environmental concerns. The new process in place here is now considered clean, renewable, energy generation.

Until now, this poultry waste has been distributed for fertilizer, which means that the chemical components not used by the plants end up in the ditches, then the creeks and streams, and then the larger waterways. At this facility, those components end up in the ash, which is then used by the fertilizer industry for a more tightly controlled application. Little is lost into the waterways. Additionally, a substantial amount of methane is diverted by simply not composting outside.

Here at CPP, steam is created in a massive vessel that turns turbines to create electricity. About 2 MW of electricity is put onto the grid for industrial and residential use in the immediate area. After the energy goes through steam turbines, the heat is exchanged to clean water and sent to an agricultural processing facility next door. The energy is used to blanch vegetables, sterilize produce, etc. In addition to the jobs directly created here, CPP has helped its neighboring industry to greatly expand operations.

It is a win-win-win-win: a reduction in pollution, energy resiliency for the grid, and direct and indirect economic development. “As long and arduous a process as this was, it’s proof that the system has really worked in NC,” said Demming. “The system was set up in 2007 with Senate Bill 3. Uniquely among the states, NC was wise enough to provide a carve-out in that law for poultry and swine pollution as energy feedstock.

That’s a tough nut to crack — it’s a sort of alchemy to turn this poop into gold. But because of the renewable energy portfolio standards, people like myself and my partners have gone through the wringer to get it done. Now, a NC home-grown company like the PRG, together with our Georgia neighbor Hurst Boiler, has attracted and deployed capital, created 20 new jobs so far, and is poised to put many more of these facilities into play in the state. Renewable energy isn’t simply good for the environment, it’s a tremendous engine of economic growth.”