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Powering up litter

Benson, Minn. — After more than five years of discussions, public meetings, planning and permitting, construction has begun on the nation’s first power plant to generate electricity from poultry litter. In late July, several hundred people attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Fibrominn plant, which should be fully operational in early 2007.

“This is the only proven commercial development in manure management since the manure spreader,” says Litchfield farmer Greg Langmo.

Langmo first contacted Fibrowatt in 1998. The British company owns Fibrominn LLC and operates three poultry-litter-fired plants in England. Langmo, a turkey producer, was looking for manure-handling options. “To have a commercially-viable, sustainable alternative to (manure) land application is huge.”

The Fibrominn facility will use about 500,000 tons of turkey litter from nearby barns to annually produce 50 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 50,000 Minnesota homes.

At the groundbreaking, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said turning byproducts into energy is not only good for rural Minnesota’s economy and job growth, “it’s good environmental policy, good for national security and it is also good energy policy because it’s diversifying our sources of energy.”

While the plant will primarily burn turkey litter, other agricultural biomass could be used. Langmo, now Fibrominn’s fuels manager, says clean biomass such as grain, straw, ag-processing coproducts and animal bedding could be used under the plant’s permit.

AURI’s Alan Doering, who has tested a multitude of potential biomass fuels, agrees that “not only the turkey producers could benefit; other producers may have the opportunity to provide ag-based fuel.” The $140 million project is expected to provide 30 on-site jobs as well as $8-10 million in local spending each year.

The Benson facility is the first of its kind in the United States and will be the largest biomass plant in the nation when completed. Langmo expects the plant to be test fired in December 2006 and fully operational a few months later.

Fibrominn will use the same technology as U.K. plants. Poultry litter, transported from barns in covered trucks, is kept in a storage building before it is burned to produce steam that powers a turbine and generator to produce electricity.

Xcel Energy has a contract with Fibrominn to purchase 50 megawatts of electricity. Wayne Brunetti, the company’s board chair, says Fibrominn will help Xcel “become the largest provider of renewable energy in the country.”

Turkey litter has approximately one-third the heating value of coal. After burning, the ash will be reduced to about 5 percent of the litter’s original volume and can be land applied as fertilizer.