A “manure co-op” biorefinery project is currently looking to link up with about 600 Irish livestock farmers with a view to buying slurry and manure.
The €120 million anaerobic digestion (AD) project is being run by Genos Resources.
Speaking to Agriland, Leon Mekitarian, operations director for Genos, explained:
“We’re seeking to bring the centralised biorefinery concept to Irish agriculture where on-farm biogas hasn’t delivered.
“We’re actively targeting livestock farmers big and small across the county to pledge their support for what effectively is a manure co-op, as opposed to a milk co-op.”
Expanding on this, Leon explained that Genos is seeking to bring the tried-and-tested cooperative model to the livestock manure side as an energy co-op, “allowing people to participate in the value chain associated with their manure”.
Manure co-op biorefinery
It is envisaged that, to ensure year-round supply of feedstock manure, up to 600 farmers will be needed for the plant.
“The difference there is we’re taking solid manures, liquid manures – so we’re taking dung as well as slurry – and all sectors: livestock; equestrian; pig; avian; and bovine are all welcome.”
Once put through the planned plant, the end product will be a high-temperature biogas that will go into the energy sector, Leon said.
“We plan on making hydrogen from our electricity and capture the CO2 from the process and sequester it into the fertiliser,” he added.
“It will be a dry fertiliser product – that’s sort of the key difference really to perhaps a traditional on-farm biogas plant, the digestate comes out in a dry pellet form, similar to what people would spread in a fertiliser spreader.”
Benefits for farmers
The benefits of the proposed manure co-op are four-fold, the operations director said, highlighting that, firstly, the firm is placing a value on the manure and farmers will be paid for supplying it as a commodity.
When asked how much farmers could expect or aim for, Leon said:
“Typically in terms of a dairy farmer, what we’re offering is typically worth 1.5c/L on the milk price, to put it in dairy terms.
“What that means – it depends on scale of course – but a farmer, depending on the scale of manures he has available, would be looking at anything between €10,000 and €60,000 a year in terms of income from this operation – depending entirely on scale.”
Another benefit is that participant farmers also get an equity stake in the energy company in the same way that they would if they were a member of a co-op, which they earn through their supply, Leon said.
“Thirdly is the soft benefits of everything from no land spreading costs and all the associated issues with slurry management: slurry storage; slurry spreading; slurry odours; slurry run-off,” he added.
“And then finally there’s a big carbon benefit. Ultimately farming is going to transition to a carbon business, like every other sector of the next couple of decades, and this is the beginning of that journey.
“We’re carbon capturing the gases from the slurry which would otherwise be spread on the farm; we’re able to offer a substantial greenhouse gas emission saving to each farmer partner, which will become relevant to their own position in the future.”
Farmers have the flexibility to supply as much or as little of their manures as they wish – as long as economic quantities are agreed, the Genos director added.
“It’s all about a just transition – all members of Irish society are going to have to transition to a zero-carbon future and there’ll be no choice in that. Livestock farming will have to adapt as well – and this is one way of making a very meaningful inroads into that transition.
“Because livestock farming is not going anywhere – despite what some people would like to think. This country is great at growing grass and is well suited to livestock production, so all we need to do is basically ensure that that is done sustainably.
“The first place to start is capturing the greenhouse gases from the manures and slurry.”
Asked what stage Genos is at in the process of realising the goals of the project, Leon said: “We’re seeking binding commitments for this project to go ahead.
“Once we have that commitment we’ll then progress to the planning and development stage and would hope to be operational by early 2024.
“Given the scale of the project, and its nature, it’s not an appropriate proposition to say we’ll build it and then get the supply – we need the supply first; and then, if people are prepared to back it and wait for it, then we will build it.”
In terms of where the plant will be based – and the area where farmers are sought – Leon said:
“Our catchment for our plant, the economic catchment, is typically 50km from the site.
“We’ve earmarked Thurles as an ideal central location so 50km from Thurles – which takes in most of Tipperary.
This catchment, he added, may take in parts of neighbouring counties Laois, Offaly, Kilkenny and possibly Limerick.
Should the project succeed with the plant earmarked for Thurles, further plants may be in the pipeline, he said, noting: “There’s room for one of these in every county; we’d certainly have a plan in place to develop half a dozen of these – but it’ll be entirely driven on demand.”
For those interested in learning more, further details on this project packed with potential can be found on the Genos Resources website here.