Vaporized Hog Waste Testing to Begin
Plasma Energy Group, based out of Florida, is planning to test a new vaporizing technology on hog waste produced at Sandy River Farm in Conway County this month. The objective is to start using the technology at C&H Hog Farms in Newton County to allay concerns of environmental groups upset about C&H's presence in the Buffalo River watershed.
Initially, Plasma Energy Group, C&H Hog Farms and Cargill - which owns the hogs at C&H Hog Farms - planned to test the technology on-site in Mount Judea, but Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said that changed after meetings with concerned parties in Northwest Arkansas. Cargill owns the Sandy River Farm facility and its hogs, and is choosing the site as a replacement outside the Buffalo River watershed, which is the area surrounding the river where water drains into it.
Cargill, a multinational agricultural corporation, can't begin testing until it receives a prototype of the technology from Plasma Energy Group, a Port Richey, Fla., company.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said the prototype wasn't ready yet and that his company hasn't heard from Plasma Energy Group in about a month.
Plasma Energy Group President Murry Vance said he believed the company would begin testing this month at Sandy River Farm.
"It will happen in July," he said. "I don't know the exact date yet."
If all goes well, Vance said, the company expects to begin using the technology at C&H Hog Farms in August.
Vance said last fall that his company would begin testing the vaporizing technology early in 2015. But Cargill wants to make sure "everything is perfect" before the technology can be used at C&H Hog Farms, Vance said.
The Department of Environmental Quality warned Plasma Energy Group in October that testing the technology could result in enforcement action if the technology resulted in gas discharges that would require an air permit. The department had been unable to determine whether Plasma Energy Group needed an air permit because it did not receive enough data from the company on projected gas discharges from vaporizing hog waste. The company has vaporized some materials before, but never hog waste.
Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Katherine Benenati said department officials have not heard anything new from Plasma Energy Group since last fall.
Vance said he hasn't spoken to anyone at the department since October.
Meanwhile, Vance has maintained his plans, saying last year that the size of the machine that would be used would produce less emissions than a commercial lawn mower.
He said his company has since been testing cow manure and other waste without any problems. Liquid pig waste is easier to vaporize than "high solid" materials his company is used to vaporizing, he added.
Plasma Energy Group started in 2013, but Vance has said he has been using the vaporizing technology - called plasma arc pyrolysis - since 1992. Plasma arc pyrolysis typically involves the conversion of material into synthetic gas. In the case of C&H, Vance has said the waste won't be turned into synthetic gas because the quantity of material won't be large enough.
The method proposed for the C&H farm would break down the hog waste and vaporize it using an electron discharge and some heat, then condense the water vapor into "semi-pure" water that's put back into the plant.
Plasma Energy Group's contract is with C&H Hog Farms, but Cargill officials have been looking for ways to address the environmental backlash against the company for its involvement with C&H Hog Farms' construction on Big Creek, 6 miles from where it meets the Buffalo National River.
Vaporizing is a possible way to reduce the volume of waste from the facility that is spread on fields for agricultural purposes.
"Cargill's willing to conduct that [plasma arc pyrolysis testing] at Sandy River, and we believe it's the right thing to do," Martin said.
"The thought behind looking at this technology is that there are those who believe that spreading manure on crop fields in the Buffalo River watershed near C&H Hog Farm is going to result in the manure somehow getting into the water," Martin said.
"And so we have looked at a number of technologies or explored a number of ideas or options -- most of them are conceptual, such as plasma energy concept. The thought behind that is if we can reduce the volume that is spread on the fields by employing some other technology that will cost-effectively eliminate the waste, even though we feel it has a legitimate purpose as a fertilizer, that could potentially allay the concerns out there that fertilizer might get into the water system."
Environmental groups have been concerned about the potential for a hog waste lagoon failure that would run into Big Creek and then into the Buffalo River, in addition to concern that the rough karst terrain surrounding the river would lead to elevated pollutants from hog manure applied to the ground for agricultural purposes.
A University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture study is looking at the impact of runoff into Big Creek and the waste ponds themselves.
In May, C&H submitted a proposed modification to its permit to add covers on the hog waste lagoons that would capture gas emitted from them and then send it through an upward pipe to flare and burn it.
Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which was formed in response to C&H Hog Farms' construction in 2013, said Cargill's time, energy and money might be better spent moving the operation out of the watershed.
"Generally ... they seem to be throwing every technology at this thing to try and make sure it stays where it's located," Watkins said.
The Buffalo National River -- the country's first national river -- is a popular tourist spot, with more than 1.3 million visitors in 2014, who spent about $56.5 million at area businesses, according to National Park Service data.
C&H Hog Farms is permitted to hold up to 2,500 sows and 4,000 piglets at a time. Small hog farms have existed in the watershed for years, but C&H is the first large-scale hog facility in the watershed.
On Monday, a state legislative committee advanced a proposed five-year ban on new medium or large hog farms in the watershed.
Article cited from: http://goo.gl/KrrqkD