For this month's Funding the Future segment, we spoke with Bill Parmentier, a project development lead for Ductor Corporation, a Finnish biotechnology company providing biogas operators with a new patented technology for their projects. Leyline Renewable Capital is working with Ductor to make advancements in this sector, beginning with a first-of-its-kind project in Anson County, N.C. The Leyline/Ductor cooperative may help facilitate a transition to cleaner, stronger communities and growth in the biogas industry countrywide.
Ductor: Improving the Biogas Industry
Biogas/renewable natural gas (RNG) is produced from waste-to-energy processes that break down residual waste from organic waste streams (e.g., livestock facilities, food production). Traditional biogas facilities use anaerobic digestion to produce methane, which is converted to RNG and injected into natural gas pipelines. North Carolina holds strong biogas potential, given the large numbers of swine and poultry facilities in the state. However, despite the quantity of birds, poultry manure is currently an underutilized resource in biogas production. Poultry is expected to grow immensely as a protein source in the coming years, and thus may prove an invaluable resource if tapped properly.
Why have biogas industries not yet taken advantage of poultry waste? The answer lies in the nutrients contained in poultry manure. Poultry waste is high in nitrogen, which creates ammonia and inhibits the anaerobic digestion process. Ductor created a solution to this issue. The company is introducing a new technology involving an extra step in biogas production; an additional reactor is used to convert organic nitrogen into ammonia, which can then be captured, separated out, and utilized as a fertilizer. "Ductor set out to create a different method for processing nitrogen, using naturally occurring microbes that thrive in a high-nitrogen environment," said Parmentier. "These organisms break down waste proteins into amino acids and further into nitrogen in the form of ammonia, which when removed can yield a remaining substrate fit for digestion." Utilizing this process proves effective for seizing the potential of poultry litter and other high-nitrogen feedstocks, such as fish processing waste. The biogas created via Ductor's projects then provides a renewable energy source for distribution. Since RNG is recycling carbon that already exists in the atmosphere, it does not contribute to new carbon emissions.
North Carolina and Biogas
Poultry is the number one agricultural industry in North Carolina, and the state ranks third nationally in total poultry production. It stands as a strong candidate for biogas production and is an area of focus for Ductor's technology. North Carolina already has a carve-out under its Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires investor-owned utilities to meet a certain percentage of energy needs each year using poultry waste. The North Carolina Utilities Commission also issued a three-year pilot program to address concerns and operational logistics for injecting RNG into the N.C. natural gas system. Though the program did not garner as many participants as hoped, the Optima KV and Optima TH swine waste to RNG plants demonstrated potential for biogas success. Following the pilot program's initial term expiration this summer, there are plans to extend the program to capture more data from additional feedstock sources, such as poultry manure, landfill biomass, and food processing waste. Ductor's project was approved for entry into the pilot program in 2019.
Leyline's Role in a Growing Industry
Ductor is getting in on this growing sector, and following successful trials in Finland and Mexico, initiated its first U.S. project in Anson County, N.C. Since the company is still in the early growth phase, capital was needed to move this project forward - which is where Leyline comes in. Leyline Renewable Capital has experience in the RNG space, having invested in a number of waste-to-value streams and anaerobic digestion projects across the United States, but there are few, if any, poultry waste anaerobic digestion projects in this country. Leyline provided Ductor with capital to hire an engineering, procurement, and construction company; run an RFP; and create relationships with project operations and maintenance providers. Leyline enables Ductor to launch a brand-new phase of biogas production and development in the United States.
Parmentier noted the importance of the project siting. Anson County is economically distressed as defined by the N.C. Department of Commerce, based on the county's median income, employment rate, population growth, and property tax base. Anson County is one of the state's highest-producing counties for broiler chickens and is home to many independent and immigrant farmers who contract with larger corporations. "Our project will directly create 8-10 new local jobs that pay higher than the average county wage," says Parmentier. "We will work with local partners and service providers to sustainably support regional poultry production. Contract growers will have an alternative solution for their manure management, which will recycle the nutrients and other co-products in a sustainable way. The lower carbon intensity RNG we produce will help displace diesel fuel use and improve air quality, while the fertilizers will help remove excess nutrients from the local watershed and improve water quality."
As the project moves into operation, Ductor's technology, backed by Leyline's investment, will allow poultry and other high-nitrogen waste biogas to gain a foothold, setting a precedent for the future of RNG production.