Manure-to-energy recommended for saving Chesapeake Bay

Why does every environmentalist solution harken back to the days of yore?

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Maryland and other Chesapeake Bay states struggling to clean up the degraded estuary should do more to encourage projects that convert farm animal manure to energy, a new report says.

The report released Thursday by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a tri-state legislative advisory body, suggests more than a dozen policy changes aimed at boosting development of manure-based energy projects. One proposal, for example, would require utilities to purchase a certain amount of such power, as they must now from solar and wind facilities.

Converting farm manure to energy would help alleviate a problem in some areas of the six-state bay watershed, including Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the report says, where too much poultry and livestock waste is generated to be safely used as fertilizer on crop fields. Regionwide, runoff of farm animal manure accounts for 15 percent of the nitrogen and 36 percent of the phosphorus causing algae blooms and dead zones in the bay, according to Environmental Protection Agency modeling.

It’s the only energy that I can think of that addresses some of our energy-sustainability issues — does not rely on unrenewable natural resources — and reduces pollution at the same time,” said Ann P. Swanson, commission executive director…

Environmental groups are split on manure-power projects, with some supporting them and others saying they’re a Band-Aid approach to the water-quality problems posed by concentrated animal operations.

State Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and farmer, said manure-based energy projects show promise. But financing remains a hurdle, he said, and farmers still need to be shown that animal waste is more valuable for generating electricity or heat than it is for fertilizing crops. [Emphasis added]

6 thoughts on “Manure-to-energy recommended for saving Chesapeake Bay”

  1. Alex, I agree with many of the points you make, especially about not trusting EPA research. However, all over the country we are being forced to invest in wind and solar projects that are higher cost per kW. Here we are talking about converting waste to energy, this makes a lot more sense and it reduces the risk to the environment. I feel that is a huge benefit as well.

    Not all these systems use incineration, as a matter of fact, most use anaerobic digestion which eliminates many of the issues with NOx when the engine generator system is designed for this type of fuel. The current cost of power from this sort of system is higher than that of coal but not nearly as high as wind and solar when compared on a dollar per kW capacity basis. These systems provide base-load distributed power not just when its sunny or windy.

    The state of Vermont has a very successful voluntary program called Cow-Power that more than covered the additional cost of production from manure digester systems on dairy farms, so as I said in my first post, its not as much “junk” as science.

  2. Wait, win-win? First, that is assuming the blame from EPA is appropriate (ie. the 15% of N and 36% of P claims), of which I’m not convinced given my own research on the “accuracy” of the EPA’s nutrient flow models.

    Second, the article notes that “one proposal” would force power companies to “invest” in manure-to-power schemes — which is a de facto admission that the power they produce costs more than current alternatives, i.e. it isn’t economical. So why should I pay more for power if the “problem” isn’t really caused by what they say it is?

    Remember, this whole scheme is predicated on the assumption that the Bay’s problem is “nutrient input” rather than a lack of historical “nutrient cycling” in the bay, such as that provided by once-massive oyster reefs. I believe that the real problem is oyster dredging and management. If MD and DE followed the lead of VIMS researchers and restored some huge oyster reefs like was done down in the Great Wicomico river, we’d have a far healthier bay that could handle the manure nutrient inputs.

    Just my $0.02! : )

  3. I’ll stand by Mark on this one. It’s a valid concept. It’s a specialized garbage incinerator with a boiler attachment. Not exactly rocket science or far out.

    If they can build one with sufficient NOx controls to get permitted (seriously, you don’t want to burn nitrogen-rich fuel), it’s a win-win scenario.

  4. Unlike much of the “junk science” that is rightly condemned on these pages, this is actually real science that should be encouraged. It does not convert food into energy. It stabilizes the waste so it can be separated and stored, this allows the nutrients to be applied over more acres and when the crops can take them up. It improves the quality of life for the neighboring community by reducing odors. And brings in another source of income to the farms who are important members of their communities.

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