Turning waste from pig farms into natural gas

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Roeslein Alternative Energy of St. Louis is teaming up with Smithfield Foods in what is considered to be one of the largest anaerobic digestion programs in the United States. They are turning pig poop into power.

Smithfield Foods operates 9 hog finishing farms in northern Missouri and on those farms they house some 2 million hogs that produce large volumes of manure. That manure is stored in 88 “poo lagoons” where it decomposes. That old process was responsible for generating terrible odor and lots of methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas – 25 percent more destructive than carbon dioxide.

Rudi Roeslein saw possibilities in all that poop. His company, Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE) has developed a process based on technology used widely in Europe and has teamed with Smithfield Foods to bring it to the United States.

A typical “poo lagoon” covers four acres and holds 15 million gallons of manure. Roeslein has developed an impermeable cover that stretches across the lagoons. This cover traps the bio-gas given off by decomposing manure, which is then captured and purified on-site into 98 percent pure methane – clean enough to sell to national pipelines and burn as clean, natural gas.

Those covers also solve the problem of smell – all but alleviating the odor given off to surrounding communities. The cover also captures thousands of gallons of clean water that can be used to feed hogs or irrigate fields.

The project to convert all 9 hog finishing farms to anaerobic digesters will be completed in 2016. Roeslein estimates they will recover some 2.2 billion cubic feet of pipeline quality natural gas per year from the 88 Smithfield lagoons. That is the rough energy equivalent to filling 56,000 big rig trucks with a full tank of diesel fuel.

It’s a $120 million investment both Smithfield and Roeslein hope will turn piles of poop into mountains of green.