Smithfield Foods Goes Green With Manure To Energy Project

As the world becomes more aware of climate change and atmospheric pollution, proposals abound as to how best address the effects of surplus carbon emissions. In many cases, very sustainable solutions are nevertheless prohibitively expensive. Other suggested remedies do not make a large enough dent to affect the problem significantly. The good news is that there are some innovations that hit the sweet spot where economics and science intersect. Smithfield Foods is one major enterprise committed to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) at its hog processing facilities before 2025. Best of all, the hogs do most of the work.

Smithfield Foods is a company that owns 500 farms and contracts with an additional 2,000 independent livestock farmers to meet the protein demands of its customers around the world. Meats originating from Smithfield and its affiliates are found in myriad fast food and supermarket chains. As company employees and affiliate farmers can attest, a major–perhaps the major–problem facing livestock growers is animal waste. Where to put it, how to store it and keeping it from seeping into waterways are historic headaches for those who raise pigs. Fortunately, technology provides a fix while helping to improve atmospheric health and quality.

Enter anaerobic digestion: the process by which methane is extracted from hog manure and used for energy. Not a brand-new idea, this system is nevertheless costly. After several years of examining “manure-to-energy” models, Smithfield invests considerable resources re-tooling its farm operations and processing facilities with anaerobic digesters. These are closed systems that break down sold waste by extracting the biogas (methane) and yielding low-odor ash that fertilizes as effectively as raw manure. In their absence, farmers must combine solid waste with water to form a slurry before storing it in a lagoon to decompose (or else await removal) while its methane enters the troposphere.

The renewable natural gas created by this process will be put to work at Smithfield operations in three states. In North Carolina, the company works with five of its partner farmers to employ anaerobic digesters that capture and collect biogas. This effluvium is then conveyed to Smithfield’s own processing plant for conversion to usable energy. The program, dubbed Optima KV, expects to generate enough electricity for 1,000 residences per year. Plans are on the drawing board to expand the project to contract producers across the state.

Meanwhile, on Smithfield’s own farms in Missouri, the company plans to endow their operations similarly, expecting to power over 15,000 homes annually. Taking this mission, a step further, Smithfield will construct 26 new hog finishing spaces in Utah, each equipped with in-ground digestion. From this effort, 4,000 properties will receive energy.

The “25 by ’25” goal, while ambitious, is in character for Smithfield Foods. Innovation and conservation go hand in hand for this enterprise and have been so partnered for many years. As science and technology blaze trails to reduce the negative impacts of agriculture on the earth, Smithfield is ready to embrace the newest and best