In-vessel manure composter debuts at demonstration event

Managing Editor

WOODBINE, Md. (June 21, 2016) — The first completed demonstration project funded by Maryland’s Animal Waste Technology Fund was showcased last week at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Howard County.
The project, an in-vessel manure composter, is one of five projects funded on Maryland farms demonstrating various manure-to-energy technologies.
“This isn’t the only one in the state. This is the first one. That’s why it’s important,” said Joe Bartenfelder, Maryland agriculture secretary during the tour attended by state agriculutre and elected officials. “Developing new technologies to protect natural resources and improve farm profitability is a win-win for everyone.”
The composter at Days End Farm has been in use since October, and can process about 1.5 tons of horse manure every two weeks, versus a more basic bin composing system that can take 90 to 100 days.
The channel-shaped structure has a greenhouse roof to help generate heat in the material andautomated equipment to mix, aerate and add moisture to reach a consistent product. Air is pumped into the pile to assist the process and a vacuum system reduces odor.
“What we’re trying to do is create an environment where (microorganisms) can thrive,” said Michael Bryan-Brown, president of Green Mountain Technologies which installed the $80,000 unit at Days End Farm. State funding for the project was $154,861, according to Luise Lawrence, chief of the Office of Resource Conservation at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which included permitting and engineering costs, site preparation and equipment and monitoring by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
The Animal Waste Technology Fund has paid $3.7 million in grants to companies to demonstrate on farms alternative ways of managing animal manure. A component of each of the grants is to collect data from the demonstration projects to study its efficiency and economic viability.
“All these systems need to get a price point that’s within reason for farmers who are interested in adopting them,” Lawrence said.
Hillman said the final compost product will be used for bedding, on-site landscaping needs and possible sale to a local nursery. After getting some of the initial kinks worked out and temporary stoppages due to winter storms, Hillman saidthe system has been running smoothly. The University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center estimates the farm will save about $12,000 a year from not having take its manure to a landfill and by reusing some of the finished compost for bedding.
As a non-profit horse rescue operation operating solely on donations, that savings was an attractive reason to participate in the project, said DeEtte Hillman, the farm’s equine program director. Days End has capacity for about 80 horses that are rehabilitating from incidents of neglect and abuse and Hillman said the farm houses roughly 150 different horses though the coarse of a year.
“From what it could provide and how we could benefit as a non-profit is why we said yes,” Hillman said. “We’re excited. I’m ready for it to have an impact and test it out.”
Along with better manure management, the system addresses pathogen control as the manure goes through the composting process. The horses come to Days End Farm stressed and from several different places and even with a quaratine period, keeping pathogens in check is a priority of the farm, Hillman said. Temperature in the unit needs to be above 135 degrees F for several days to destroy pathogens and weed seed.
“We’re maintaining that temperature or better for more than five days so all that is gone when it’s through the process,” said Michael Calkins, a conservation planner and equine specialist in the Howard County Soil Conservation District, who helped to get the system sited and is monitoring it’s performance.
A similar high-rate manure composter installed by Green Mountain Technologies and funded by MDA for demonstration has been operating on a Frederick County dairy farm since January and three other projects addressing poultry litter are slated to come online this fall or later, Lawrence said.
Planet Found Energy development installed an anerobic digester on a Lower Shore farm linked to a nutrient recovery system to produce electricity and separate fertilizer products.
On a Dorchester County farm, Biomass Heating Solutions installed a fluidized bed combustion system to convert litter to energy for heating and cooling poultry houses and generate electricity for the farm. A marketable high-phosphorus ash will be a byproduct of the system. In Wicomico County, Renewable Oil International is installing a fast pyrolysis system to make bio-oil which has use as an asphalt extender, bio-char which enhances composting and synthesis gas for a heating source.