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Disconnect from the grid…with poo power!

Two Queensland-based businesses have teamed up to turn 50,000 tonnes of chicken poo into an unlikely source of power.

Darling Downs Fresh Eggs at Pittsworth on the Darling Downs have an enormous cost associated with clearing, cleaning and disposing of 100 tonnes a week of chook poo produced by 250,000 chickens.

Geoff Sondergeld, chief executive officer of Darling Downs Fresh Eggs estimated his electricity costs have been rising 30 per cent each year.

Alternative energy company Quantum Power Ltd, based at Yatala, Darling Downs, in turn created a solution to dispose of the poo and save money in the process.

By installing biogas digester technology sourced from Quantum Power, Fresh Eggs have became the first egg producer in Australia to create power from poo.

“I know way too much about poo than I should,” Sondergeld said in a recent interview with ABC Local Radio. “We have our own rearing sheds and feed mill and highly technical laying operations. And we spend a lot of electricity cooling the birds, especially in summertime.”

How does it work

The system captures methane created when manure breaks down from a natural anaerobic reaction caused by micro-organisms.

Agitators in the digesters stir the manure to encourage anaerobic bacteria to start breaking down the animal waste.

The by-products from the anaerobic reaction are; biogas, typically comprising of methane and carbon dioxide; “sludge” which is used as fertiliser; and heat.

“This project will achieve efficiencies by capturing biogas generator heat for use in chicken rearing sheds and hot water for the grading floor – almost eliminating the need for a separate gas source for heating,” Geoff said.

A flowchart of the biogas digester. Images courtesy of Quantum Power.

A flowchart of the biogas digester. Images courtesy of Quantum Power.

Modifying the system for chickens

Biogas digesters have been used effectively at piggeries to produce energy but the system needed to be modified for chicken manure at Darling Downs Egg Farm.

Chickens eat very little animal protein; with the exception of grasshoppers, worms and insects, their diet is approximately 90 per cent vegetarian.

Given their diet, chicken manure lacks the necessary micro-organisms to start the anaerobic reaction which produces methane.

By adding bacteria to the chicken manure and controlling the environment in the digester, Quantum Power has been able to create the right anaerobic reaction to break down the manure into biogas.

Benefits of poo power

Geoff estimates the farm has saved more than $250,000 in energy costs during the first year of using poo power, and that the cost to install the biogas facility will be paid off in five years.

Since installing the biogas digester technology on his egg farm, Sondergeld said his farm is almost carbon neutral.

“About 95 per cent of our power consumption is via our own means,” Sondergeld said.

Quantum Power’s CEO and Managing Director Richard Brimblecombe said biogas digesters can deliver significant environmental and sustainable benefits to rural businesses.

“We’re expecting a reduction in carbon emissions of up to 1,000 tonnes per annum, through the reduced electricity and LPG usage,” Brimblecombe said. “The plant will also reduce the site’s methane emissions by over 6,000 tonnes CO2e per annum.”

“While Darling Downs Fresh Eggs will access power from the grid in peak periods, the digester will produce sufficient energy to operate 100% of the businesses energy requirements in all other periods,” he said. “Over time, the use of anaerobic digestion will become mainstream for primary producers and food processors.”

The Darling Downs Fresh Eggs project is Quantum Power’s 8th biogas project, although our first in the layer chicken industry.

Brimblecombe believes there is potential for more than 20 biogas projects across the Darling Downs alone.

“In many cases, when combined with other sources of renewable energy like solar there is the opportunity to completely disconnect from the grid and become completely energy independent,” Brimblecombe said..

Beyond the substantial hip-pocket savings to their business, Sondergeld is proud their business has become more environmental sustainable, having reduced their carbon footprint.

“Even our kids seem impressed when they tell their friends ‘my dad makes power from poo’,” Sondergeld said.

About Lou Bromley