SEAFORD – An upstart developer of microbe-based sustainable waste-processing plants has signed a 20-year agreement with Perdue Farms to process its organic material and purchased the major poultry processing company’s Sussex County AgriRecycle organic soil composting facility.
Bioenergy DevCo, based in Columbia, Maryland, will manage the operations of the AgriRecycle facility that composts up to 30,000 tons of poultry processing byproducts and litter received from Perdue’s Delmarva Peninsula contract farms every year at its facility in Seaford. Under its management, however, the company will introduce an anaerobic digestion system, which uses a natural process driven by microorganisms to biodegrade organic materials. The process breaks down the waste products to produce digestate, an organic soil amendment that has a high nutrient value, as well as renewable natural gas, which is captured for use.
Construction of the anaerobic digester will be overseen by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and Sussex County, officials noted. The project is also expected to create about 20 new jobs at the Seaford facility.
Aiding Bioenergy DevCo’s American contract work is the fact that it acquired BTS Biogas, a longtime Italian developer of more than 200 anaerobic digestion systems around the world, in August. Bioenergy DevCo Founder and CEO Shawn Kreloff told the Delaware Business Times that anaerobic digestion became his “passion project” after he learned about it about seven years ago, and he joined with BTS Biogas to bring the technology to America.
“It’s an industry that’s been matured in Europe, but it made me wonder why we have these plants in Europe but not here?” he said. “Twenty years ago, the U.S. had so much land and it was so cheap that no one really thought about recycling, but attitudes have changed, and regulations have tightened on recycling and composting. The timing became right [to develop anaerobic digestion here].”
Flush with $106 million in capital funding, Bioenergy DevCo now has four different projects under development, including one at the Maryland Food Center in Jessup, where dozens of produce and seafood merchants, food processors and distributors produce about 100,000 tons of organic waste each year, Kreloff said.
Perdue Farms and Bioenergy DevCo found each other, Kreloff said, and what they determined was that the “solution was not only good for the environment but Perdue’s bottom line.” It represents one of the first opportunities to bring organic waste management to the animal processing industry at-scale.
In a statement, Perdue Farms CEO Randy Day said the agreement proved his company’s “commitment to environmental stewardship is stronger than ever.”
“With Bioenergy, we have found a partner that enables us to be more sustainable, create cost-savings, and help produce renewable energy while continuing to address soil health and nutrient management in the environmentally sensitive Chesapeake Bay watershed,” he said.
Kreloff described their anaerobic digester as essentially a “cow’s stomach on an industrial scale.”
While a cow’s stomach may break down organic material to produce nutrient-rich manure, it also produces the harmful greenhouse gas, methane. In contrast, anaerobic digestion produces digestate, a soil conditioner, and natural gas, Kreloff said, noting “it’s a much cleaner result.”
Kreloff expects that the Perdue AgriRecycle facility will produce up to 350,000 million British thermal units of natural gas annually from the roughly 10,000 tons of waste. “It would produce the equivalent of about 5 megawatts of electricity,” he said.
He hopes to be able to use that gas in two ways: injecting it back into the facility’s natural gas pipeline as well as installing a compressed natural gas filling station at the center, where vehicles could be fitted to use it for power.
While anaerobic digesters are commonly married to composting plants in Europe, they aren’t here in America. Kreloff said that he hopes the successful implementation at Perdue’s Seaford facility will allow it to tackle more projects in the poultry industry.
“Composting food waste typically comes with some associated odors and concerns, and AD really removes that from the equation,” he said, noting he expects the public to support the project’s outcomes as well.
The project will also draw academic interest, as anaerobic digestion is considered state-of-the-art technology in the agri-science industry, Kreloff said.
“We’re already been talking to universities interested in using the AgriRecycle facility as a place for research and learning,” he said.
By Jacob Owens