U.S. Water News Online
SMITHFIELD, Va. -- When people think about recycling
manure, they usually think about using it as fertilizer on crops. But
manure is good for something else, too -- powering cars.
Smithfield Foods announced recently that it will invest $20
million to build facilities that convert its hog waste into
ecologically friendly diesel fuel. Production in Utah and another
undisclosed Southwestern state is expected to begin by October.
Representatives for Smithfield Foods -- the world's largest hog
farmer and pork producer -- said that while the project could help
offset the company's reputation as a large-scale polluter, it is not
a public relations ploy.
``We're doing it to see if we can handle waste streams more
efficiently than now, and have a revenue stream at the end of the
day,'' said Dennis H. Treacy, a former Virginia regulator who is now
Smithfield's vice president for environmental affairs and government
relations. ``We believe it has potential.''
Smithfield owns the largest slaughterhouse in the world,
Smithfield Packing Co. in Tar Heel, N.C., where almost 7.5 million
hogs are slaughtered each year.
The company will be lead partner in a privately held partnership,
Best BioFuel LLC, that will build the plants at two sites.
Best plans to build one plant at Circle Four Farms, Smithfield's
hog-raising operation in Milford, Utah. Circle Four's 57,000 sows
produce about 1 million hogs for market each year. Every day, each
animal creates about 2.3 gallons of waste that includes excrement and
The Milford plant will process the waste into methanol, a type of
alcohol, producing 4 million gallons a year. The methanol will be
shipped to another site and used to make biodiesel. The fuel is
converted from animal or vegetable oils and can be used as an
alternative to petroleum diesel in most applications.
Treacy, who headed the Virginia Department of Environmental
Quality from 1998 through 2001, declined to tell The Virginian-Pilot
the location of the second plant, pending final local permitting.
He added that Smithfield cannot predict sales of the biodiesel
because the amount will vary with demand and fuel prices.
``The question is logistics and marketing,'' Treacy said. ``A lot
depends on oil prices.''
The company's biodiesel efforts, he said, could be applied to the
company's other operations where hog waste has drawn criticism.
``We're going to be looking at applications elsewhere,'' Treacy
Disposal of hog waste has prompted court battles between corporate
farmers such as Smithfield and groups concerned about environmental
and health effects.
Members of Water Keeper Alliance, a White Plains, N.Y.,
environmental group that has helped bring lawsuits against the
company, called chairman Joseph W. Luter III an ``outlaw polluter.''
However, supporters of biodiesel technology praised Smithfield's
``It's an environmentally friendly product,'' said Jenna Higgins,
spokeswoman for the National Biodiesel Board, a trade group based in
Jefferson City, Mo. ``We think that's great.''
Biodiesel burns cleaner than petroleum diesel and works in the
same engines with little modification. It can be made from waste
products such as animal fat or used restaurant cooking oil. The
result can be used pure or blended with petroleum diesel.
Although promising, biodiesel is not expected to make up a large
part of the energy market any time soon.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates -- optimistically -- that
the fuel will make up less than 10 percent of the nation's petroleum
consumption. It estimates that the nation will use more than 20
million barrels a day by the end of this decade.
``The use of biodiesel as an alternative fuel is not expected to
be significant,'' the department's Energy Information Administration
wrote in a report last year.
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