If you turned on your light switch today, thank a farmer! That’s the impressive sentiment I felt after touring a poultry processing facility in South Carolina.
I was there as a guest with Brightmark Energy, (BME) my latest social media partnership where we are working together to make the planet a little greener. Brightmark has two main categories to their business; one is to turn plastics into fuel (Yes! Plastic is recyclable after all!) and the second is to turn organic matter (manure, food waste, livestock byproducts, etc.) into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, which ultimately recycles it into power and fuel.
Speaking of gas, that’s sort of how this whole thing works. Think of this digester as a giant stomach or “fart bubble” that digests food. The “bugs” inside this work to break down the organic matter which produces methane. The methane is then trapped and goes through a process to recycle everything which creates clean water for field irrigation, bedding, compost and fertilizer, power, heat gas, etc.
How do they do it?
At the facility I spoke with the waste water manager for the plant and project manager for BME, Greg Meyer, explained the process which consists of basically 6+ steps which produce numerous byproducts: evisceration, DAF (dissolved air flotation), digester, anoxic tank, aerate, and decant.
This may sound a little complicated to the average person but I do think it’s fascinating and important to learn more about! This processing facility processes about 800,000 birds per week where chickens are quartered for food and the byproducts like tallow and fats, bones, oil, and blood are made into other things. In the livestock world, no part of any animal goes to waste! There are literally thousands of products that come from animals — from feather pillows to life saving pharmaceuticals; makeup to shampoo; pet food to adhesives, textiles, bullets, cement, electricity, the list goes on.
Rather than going to waste or a landfill, Brightmark Energy has created an amazing solution (at no cost to the farmer or facility!) that turns all this waste into power. This plant in particular generates about 10 million gallons a week for the digester. This ends up producing electricity for a local utility and powers around 500-700 homes! It’s a win-win situation as the methane from the processing facility is trapped and doesn’t end up in our environment. Considering methane is more potent than CO2, this is amazing technology! It’s a win for the farms as they get cleaner water and products, and doesn’t flare the gas. A win for the plant and farmer as it doesn’t cost them money; a win for recycling.
BME invests into this infrastructure and makes money selling the energy to power companies. Not only that, but the water used within the facility is totally recycled! Over 50% of the water that is cleaned through the process is used to irrigate local farmer’s fields. It’s then captured through drainage tiles and recovery wells which in turn flushes the chicken byproduct sorting facility.
The water treatment facility operator, who was once in the Navy, has been in the wastewater business for over 20 years. He beams with pride as he shows off the finished product, “You know you’ve done a good job in wastewater treatment if it’s so clear you’d feel comfortable drinking it yourself.”
I felt the same. The finished product is tested and sterilized through special types of lighting, (no added chemicals or chlorine!) where 5% of it is even released to a nearby stream/nature preserve.
The Public Utilities Commission runs a legislated thermal renewable energy credit program (RECS) specifically for green energy solutions like this, so anyone involved in these programs — whether a processing facility or large farm using manure to generate power — receives credit and shares. The generator and computer monitoring shows water cycling, temperature, kilowatts in real time, and BME owns and manages the entire process. Contact me with more details and go green for the planet. Brightmark Energy is on a mission to provide innovative waste and energy solutions that have a positive global impact and I’m honored to be a part of it!
To learn more and see additional photos of our tour together, click here.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.