BLADENBORO — In front of more than 125 people that included former Congressman Bob Etheridge, Bladen County officials, representatives from several hog farms, electrical providers, banks and area businesses, Storms Farms publicly unveiled its hog-power anaerobic digester last week.
In layman’s terms, the digester breaks down raw swine waste and, through a highly scientific process, produces renewable electricity and other by-products for use in homes and on farms.
“This is the first of its kind anywhere,” said Jeff Smerko, one of the co-founders of the digester system. “We were able to convert the usual flush tank system in the hog houses to a system that scrapes manure from the 30,000 hogs to be used for conversion to an energy rich biogas. And right now, this farm is generating enough power to supply more than 350 homes.”
Storms Farms is currently selling the energy created by the swine waste to the Four County EMC grid.
The process actually went online commercially in October 2013. It is able to not only produce a significant amount of electrical power, but also reduces the environmental impact, such as odor, that is common with the current pond and spray field manure management system.
“I came here from Colorado 20 years ago to turn manure into money, and I thought we were going to do that with beef cattle … but here we are,” Garth Boyd, a representative of Global Sustainable Solutions, said. “The idea at first attracted all kinds of mad scientists trying to find a way to get energy from manure. And now, technology had evolved and gotten better so that we can capture the energy from hog manure.
“If it was easy, though, we would have done it a lot sooner,” he added.
The digester is a 1.1 million gallon reinforced concrete vessel that mixes bacteria with the swine waste to destroy nearly all of the pathogens and odor, while leaving the methane to be converted into energy. At Storms Farms, about 60,000 gallons of swine waste is processed each day.
Each of the morning’s speakers gave credit to a litany of contributors to the project, but saved the highest praises for the Storms family.
“The family has been in Bladenboro for more than 100 years,” Smerko said. “Billy Storms started thinking about this six years ago, but the entire Storms family was absolutely essential in this project’s success.”
Storms said he was proud of what has been created on the family farm.
“My daddy and his daddy and his daddy all farmed here,” Storms said. “And I have a grandson who says he wants to farm, so this is important for our family — and, I think, for the community and the state.”
He added, “I get asked a lot why I’m doing this when I’m getting ready to retire, and I’ve wondered that myself. But things have to continue and I’ve thought about this possibility for a long time. I didn’t know how to do what I wanted to do, but I found some folks who helped us get there. They gave me exactly what I asked for and I’m tickled with it.”
The idea of turning hog waste into reusable energy was given some credibility in April 2013 through a study by Duke University.
That study claimed that hog farms in North Carolina are shown to provide a viable and renewable resource with beneficial economic impacts to the agricultural community while protecting the state’s air and water resources. One of the findings showed that, if all farms participated in collecting biogas, the system would generate enough electricity to power between 54,000 and 140,000 homes.
The study also concluded that the capture and destruction of swine waste-derived biogas could reduce greenhouse emissions by 1.35 to 1.37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
The entire project at Storms Farms was made possible by Cohn Reznick, a national CPA firm which provided audit and advisory services for a $1.5 million U.S. Treasury grant along with sourcing more than $1 million in state tax credits.