By Margaret Evans
Riding the green trail to a cleaner environment is a Langley, BC entrepreneur who has found a way to recycle horse manure and turn it into pathogen-free animal bedding for use by greenhouse operations as fuel in their burners.
For decades, equestrian barns and race tracks have had to deal with horse manure by piling it out the back and having it trucked away to landfills. Many facilities use sawdust or shavings as bedding, which doesn’t compost well and cannot be spread as fertilizer on farm fields. Stockpiled manure is smelly, attracts flies, and is an environmental contaminant since contaminated water will leach into the ground and threaten aquifers and well water.
BC’s vibrant equestrian industry has approximately 113,000 horses of which some 80,000 are in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, where they produce 500,000 tonnes of waste annually. How to dispose of that waste in an environmentally acceptable way has become a growing and urgent problem.
Philip Wilford has been in the business of soil remediation for 15 years, designing and building portable soil decontamination systems. During the avian influenza outbreak in 2004 and 2005, Wilford worked with the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands to develop an efficient method of disposing of infected poultry, a system that garnered national attention. Now, Wilford has developed simple but innovative technology to dry and shred horse manure and turn it into bedding material for use as fuel pellets for greenhouse burners. He is marketing the recycling plants through GreenScene Pellets and he is working with Horse Council BC, Equine Canada, Investment Agriculture Foundation, and the federal Industrial Research Assistance Program to refine the technology.
“Horse manure is 40 to 45 percent moisture,” said Wilford. “(Processed through the plant) it goes down to ten percent moisture. There is 30 percent less volume. From there, it’s compressed to a pellet (using a pellet mill) and loses another five percent volume. Out of three tonnes of manure, we produce two tonnes of pellet product. The process can be done for other livestock manure. I am getting calls from chicken and cattle farmers as well as mushroom producers.”
Bench scale trials have produced material of the required dryness and particulate size for it to be pelletized. With the cooperation of Dr. Susan Thompson of Crescent Stables in Ladner, BC, GreenScene is operating the first full-scale system. The facility is currently using the dried material for bedding with good success. Four other major stables have expressed interest including Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver.
The pellets or dried material produced from this plant can be used by horse farms and poultry farms for bedding which can then continue to be recycled. Greenhouses currently burn waste wood or pellets as fuel for their boilers and there is a big demand for additional pellets or sawdust. That need could be met by the recycled manure process. Tests on the dried pellets have shown them to have a high BTU (one British Thermal Unit is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by one degree Fahrenheit) and high calorific value for burning efficiency. “For greenhouses, I can sell any amount that I make as fuel pellets,” Wilford emphasized, already confident in future sales given the huge interest in his product by greenhouse operators.
The benefits from this innovation are immediate. The heat generated in the drying cycle kills all pathogens resulting in a cleaner, safer product, and CO2 emissions will meet or exceed all air emissions requirements. The process removes manure odour. It is cost effective and requires only one person to operate the plant which occupies a relatively small area of about half an acre.
The capital purchase cost for a plant varies from $500,000 on a lease basis to $1.5 million or up for a large processor. However, several farms may consider a cooperative purchase of a single plant. At an average cost of say $750,000, if, for instance, 20 local farms invested in a plant at $37,500 each, the tax benefits could yield 30 percent in tax credits and the manure, as a commodity, would have value-added potential as a marketable product.
Wilford has been getting interest in the manure recycling plant from abroad including many parts of North America, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and parts of Europe. His start-up costs have so far been approximately $350,000 and he has formed a non-profit research foundation to access grant monies for further research into applied systems of the recycling process. He recently received a $50,000 grant from the BC Agriculture Council through its Agriculture Environment Initiatives program. Investors are starting to pick up interest in the future potential for this green technology, especially with the available tax credit. Wilford expects investment to be recouped within five years.
With the huge public expectation for society to find more environmentally friendly ways to do business, Wilford may well have come up with a really green winner.
Main article photo: Courtesy of Win Wachsmann - President and inventor Phil Wilford and Dr. Susan Thompson at the GreenScene Pellets Inc. plant at Crescent Stables Ltd. in Ladner, BC.