Poultry Litter to Fuel Minnesota Power Plant

Biomass — in this case in the form of hundreds of thousands of pounds of turkey litter with woodchips and sawdust blended in — soon will be fueling a 55 megawatt [MW] power plant producing enough electricity to supply 50,000 homes in the Minnesota community of Benson.

The first large-scale facility of its kind in the U.S., the plant is being completed in an industrial park on the edge of town by Fibrominn, whose parent company Fibrowatt already operates three litter-fueled facilities in the United Kingdom. The project, started in May 2005, is expected to begin operations in June. Fibrominn picked Benson because it is in the heart of a turkey-growing region, which will provide much of the 2,000 to 2,500 tons of litter that will be needed on a daily basis. “A hundred large 18-wheel tractor/trailers will be rolling in daily with the litter obtained from growers raising the birds,” reports Terry Walmsley, Fibrominn vice president for environmental and public affairs. “Our facility will burn 700,000 tons of turkey litter per year and can operate on 100 percent litter but we’ll also be using other biomass, including woodchips and sawdust.” After combustion takes place, adds Walmsley, the leftover ash which contains nutrients will be sent by conveyor to nearby facility operated by North American Fertilizer to be processed into high value fertilizer. North American Pres. Randy Tersteec reports that limited production will begin in April and grow to 80,000 tons per year. Tersteec explains that combustion eliminates the nitrogen but actually enhances the phospherus and potassium into what is expected to be a 0-17-13 fertilizer plus micronutrients such as sulphur and zinc which he believes will be ideal for row crop farmers. “If they’re spreading four tons of litter per acre now,” he claims, “they’ll get the same nutrients in 400 pounds of our product.” First, he says, the ash will undergo conditioning with additional moisture, be put in storage for awhile and then ground and screened for uniformity. Tersteec reports that initially the fertilizer will be marketed through the dealer networks already in place. “For the startup phase we are just looking at the agriculture market and our intent is not to sell directly to farmers, but residential and landscape sales will be looked at in the future. And if customers are willing to take it in non-granulated form it would cost substantially less than other commercial fertilizers,” Tersteec noted. Greg Langmo, a Litchfield turkey farmer credited with being the first among locals to realize power generation as a better way to manage with litter started the ball rolling by contacting Fibrowatt. He sees the technology catching on elsewhere because “there’s a tremendous need for similar projects all over the country.” “Hopefully, other states will take notice and build their own plants,” Langmo added. Ted Olsen, a Utah native and independent journalist based in the Salt Lake area, is a former newspaper and business writer and editor who has covered environmental, legal, aerospace and agriculture among other areas.
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