A British company thinks it has the solution to Maryland's chicken manure pollution problem: Turn it into electricity.
With an assist from a division of AAI Corp. in Cockeysville, London-based Fibrowatt Ltd. would like to build a poultry litter-fueled electric power plant in Maryland that could supply the energy needs of a city twice the size of Salisbury.
"This is not snake oil," said Sherry Tucker, a U.S. representative of Fibrowatt. "The technology is proven."
Fibrowatt has two plants that are up and running in the poultry production region of eastern England. A third plant, in Thetford, is scheduled to go on line in the summer.
"We are leading the way in the U.K. in terms of making electricity from biomass," Rupert Fraser, Fibrowatt's director of finance, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
The Thetford plant, which will produce 38.5 megawatts of electricity (enough to serve a city of 50,000 people) will burn 440,000 tons of chicken manure a year -- about what is produced in Maryland.
"It will be Europe's largest producer of electricity from biomass," Fraser said.
G. Russell Zink, vice president of new business development at AAI, is pushing for a similar plant in Maryland.
AAI supplied furnaces
AAI, through its Detroit Stoker Co. unit in Monroe, Mich., supplied the chicken litter-burning furnaces for two Fibrowatt power plants, including the one under construction, which is considerably larger than the first two units.
Zink flashes a wide grin when he talks about the company's "poop to power" program, but he turns serious when he starts discussing the benefits to the state of such a facility.
He remember the impact of last summer's Pfiesteria outbreak that forced the state to close parts of three tributaries on the lower Eastern Shore.
It knocked Maryland's $400 million-a-year seafood industry for a loop and cut into the tourism and recreation industries.
'Could be the answer'
"This could be the answer to our problem," Zink said in suggesting that the state build a $50 million, chicken manure-burning power plant. "Maybe the way around this mess is to form a coalition of the makers and shakers in the state and have them rally behind this issue," said Zink.
"If we get the chicken farmers, the watermen, the environmentalists, the manufacturer of the equipment and politicians involved, maybe we can move forward and do something good.
"Sure, there are probably some people who will fight it, but I don't know why. This is good for the state. It's good for recreation and fishing, everything that is threatened by Pfiesteria."
State officials are aware of Fibrowatt's plans, but they are moving slowly and cautiously.
James W. Peck, director of the Maryland Environmental Service, confirmed that he has had discussions with Fibrowatt. "But we have not done a complete study or analyzed their approach right now," he said.
He said a Fibrowatt plant "is on a list of options" his office is considering to solve the problem of disposing of chicken manure once farmers are prohibited from spreading it on their fields.
Peck said his office may send someone to England to observe the Fibrowatt plants, but no trip is scheduled.
James T. Brady, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, met with Zink last week.
He, too, was a bit skeptical. "If the idea works, it could be a wonderful idea," Brady said through a spokeswoman.
He said it was premature to discuss the project and that he would be passing the information on to the state Agriculture Department for input on the technical aspects of a manure-burning power plant.
The Department of Business and Economic Development has already invested $50,000 in Vayda Energy Associates Inc., a much smaller Hampstead company that is trying to develop a chicken litter-burning furnace that would be used to heat poultry houses.
Zink suggested that Gov. Parris N. Glendening call his counterparts in Delaware and Virginia (the two other states that are a part of the Delmarva poultry industry) and discuss a partnership to spread the cost of building a regional power plant.
He said federal funding could also be possible.
On Tuesday, Glendening announced plans for a smaller project that would convert the boilers at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover from using wood chips to chicken litter for the generation of heat and electricity for the prison.
Fraser said the larger plants are more efficient and promise a better return on the investment than do smaller units.
Not the most economical
Zink and Fraser, the Fibrowatt executive, were in agreement that a chicken litter power plant is not the most economical way of producing electricity. But they said the primary objective of a plant in Maryland would be to dispose of manure.
Zink said the electricity generated by the plant could be sold to electric companies, and the ash from burning manure could be marketed as fertilizer.
"These are byproducts of the plant and they can help cover the cost," he said, but the facility would still need government subsidies. Fibrowatt currently markets the ash from its plants in England.
The plants in England, Fraser said, are odorless and a result of a government requirement that the country generate 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources of energy by 2010.
Fibrowatt's first plant, in Eye, opened in July 1992 and produces 12.7 megawatts of power. The second, in Flixborough, is slightly larger. It opened in November 1993.
Pub Date: 2/13/98