Frye Poultry Manure Gasifier

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Josh Frye raises a lot of chickens — as many as 800,000 birds a year. A lot of chickens means a lot of chicken poop to dispose of, plus the need for a lot of propane (about 30,000 gallons a year) to keep the chicks warm in the winter. So when his buddy, Matt Harper, suggested they take a road trip to Illinois to see a gasifier that would turn poop into heat, Frye was interested.

The machine at Southern Illinois University made a good impression on Frye. The fixed-bed gasifier processed five tons of poultry litter an hour with no smell, no smoke and no internal moving parts.

Frye decided to procure his own gasifier. He worked with Southern Illinois-based Coaltec Energy to identify a technology that best met his needs, and settled on the fixed-bed gasifier produced by Westside Energies of Canada. Coaltec is the U.S. sales representative for Westside Energies, and the companies helped him apply for grants to purchase and install the unit (approximate cost, $1,000,000).

   The gasifier.

Things fell into place as grants and low-interest loans came through from several West Virginia state agencies. After the grant writing was completed, the price of metal suddenly spiked, increasing the cost of the gasifier. Westside and Coaltec kicked in a contribution to keep the project within budget.

A more welcome surprise came for Frye when he was introduced to the concept of biochar by Tom Basden, an extension specialist in nutrient management at West Virginia University. “Tom told me I would end up growing chickens mainly for the poop,” Frye says. “I thought he was off his rocker, but now I think he might be right on the money.”

Frye is now producing a high quality biochar and has sold his first ton at a net price of $480 ($600 a ton for the char and $120 a ton transport costs) to a farmer in New Jersey who is testing its qualities for his crop of corn and soybeans. A farm in South Carolina is testing the char on pharmaceutical grapes (used in the nutritional supplement industry). Frye worked with International Biochar Initiative (IBI) board members Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph to optimize the gasifier to produce quality biochar rich in phosphorous and potassium. His test burns so far have made biochar that ranges from 1.7 to 3.2 percent phosphorous and 5.4 to 9.6 percent potassium.

   Josh Frye explains the gasification process.

Biochar promises to add an impressive income stream to his operation, but it’s not just about money for Frye. He had been concerned that his waste-to-energy gasifier was going to destroy the fertilizer value of the poop he had been cleaning out and selling to local farmers for about $5 a ton. “Now I feel like I am making a real contribution to the ag world,” Frye says. “Taking a raw material and converting it into a stable carbon-rich product is a great thing. Talk about falling in the poop and coming out smelling like a rose!”

Frye Poultry’s annual production of 125 to 600 tons of poultry litter can generate an estimated 25 to 120 tons of biochar. From his initial testing of the char, Frye found that depending on the operating conditions, his gasifier produces biochar with an organic carbon content ranging from 10 to 34 percent. The carbon content is largely dependent on the moisture content of the poultry litter. With lower moisture contents, the carbon percentage in the biochar increases.

The 30-foot-by-50-foot fixed-bed gasifier was installed at Frye Poultry in March 2007. It operates with negative pressure so it can burn at lower temperatures and produce biochar concurrently with energy. The unit has a maximum feed rate of about 1,000 pounds an hour, which can produce five million BTU of energy. Burning up to 12 tons of litter per day, it can produce 3 to 4 tons of char a day.

   Char from the gasifier

Coaltec staff is able to monitor performance of the unit from their offices in British Columbia, Canada. Frye operates the gasifier single-handedly at his West Virginia farm. It took Frye roughly five burns over three months to feel competent in the operation of the unit. Coaltec representatives visited onsite to help with these initial burns. One of the biggest hurdles for Frye — a dedicated Macintosh user — was learning the IBM-based computer programs to operate the gasifier.

In the winter of 2007-08, Frye ran six test burns testing wet or dry litter with or without adding wood shavings or chips. He has run the gasifier in a continuous steady state mode for up to 10 days. He has determined that one burn per cycle of broilers is ideal, with a continuous operation period of about three weeks to warm the poultry houses up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for hatchlings, tapering off to 70 degrees.

The initial funding covered much of the installation and first year of operation. But Frye realized that to continue a viable operation, he needed to have a structure to store and dry the chicken litter. Wet litter significantly slowed the process and was less efficient. Frye received additional grant funding through MicroUnity to build a storage area.

Last year’s test burns produced about 30 tons of biochar and saved Frye about four thousand gallons of propane. Eventually he expects to reduce his propane consumption by 80 to 90 percent. He is also looking into using the gasifier heat in the summer to operate a chiller to cool the poultry houses.

Frye is happy with the unit and appreciative of all the help he has received from Coaltec and others. And he’s become accustomed to surprises because they keep on coming. Frye gave some biochar to his neighbors to play with, and one neighbor “cussed him,” he says, because the grass growing on the biochar was so thick it tore up his hay mower. “Looked like he gave that pasture a punk rock haircut,” Frye says, “He needs to get more horsepower and sharpen that mower blade.”