Producing Energy from Pig and Poultry Waste in Brazil

Romário Schaefer, 65, stands between the biodigester buried in the ground on the right and the blue tank holding whey that is mixed with the manure of the pigs he fattens in a row of pig pens (top left) to produce biogas, in the southern Brazilian municipality of Entre Rios do Oeste. In the background is his brick factory, which saves about 6,500 dollars a month in electricity by using biogas. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Romário Schaefer, 65, stands between the biodigester buried in
the ground on the right and the blue tank holding whey that is
mixed with the manure of the pigs he fattens in a row of pig pens
(top left) to produce biogas, in the southern Brazilian
municipality of Entre Rios do Oeste. In the background is his brick
factory, which saves about 6,500 dollars a month in electricity by
using biogas. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ENTRE RIOS DO OESTE, Brazil, Aug 16 2019 (IPS)

Romário Schaefer is fattening up 3,300 pigs that he receives
when they weigh around 22 kg and returns when they reach 130 to 160
kg – a huge increase in meat and profits for their owner, a local
meat-processing plant in this city in Brazil.

Schaefer is not interested in the pork meat business. What he
wants is the manure, which he uses to produce biogas and
electricity that fuel his brick-making factory.

“I’m not a farmer,” he says as he shows us around his
Stein Ceramics
company in the middle of a 38-hectare rural property on the
outskirts of Entre Rios do Oeste, a farming town of 4,400 people in
western Paraná, one of three states in Brazil’s southern region,
on the border with Paraguay.

He is explaining the difference between himself and neighbouring
pig farmers who produce biogas and sell it to the
Mini-Thermoelectric Plant inaugurated on Jul. 24 to generate energy
that serves the Entre Rios municipal
government and all of its facilities in the town itself and the
rest of the municipality.

For them it is a new agricultural product, and has been
recognised as such in Paraná for commercial and tax purposes. But
for Schaefer it’s an input for his factory, which makes
bricks.

Animal waste, which pollutes the soil and rivers, is becoming an
important by-product in southwestern Brazil, where pig and poultry
farming has expanded widely in recent decades.

The Haacke farm, in the municipality of Santa Helena, south of
Entre Rios, uses the waste produced by its tens of thousands of
hens and hundreds of cattle to produce biogas, electricity and
biomethane.

Its biomethane, a fuel derived from the refining of biogas which
is employed as a substitute for natural gas, is used in vehicles at
the giant Itaipú hydroelectric plant shared by Brazil and Paraguay
on the Paraná River, which forms part of the border between the
two countries.

In Mariscal Cándido
Rondon
, a few kilometres to the north, the Kohler family,
pioneers in the use of biogas on their large farm, took on another
role in the chain of this energy which is more than just clean –
it actually cleans the environment.

Part of Stein Ceramics, whose prosperity and ecological production were made possible by the biogas produced from the manure of 3,300 pigs. The factory produces enough bricks monthly to build 200 60-square-metre homes in the state of Paraná, on Brazil's border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of Stein Ceramics, whose prosperity and ecological
production were made possible by the biogas produced from the
manure of 3,300 pigs. The factory produces enough bricks monthly to
build 200 60-square-metre homes in the state of Paraná, on
Brazil’s border with Paraguay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

They created a biodigester company, BioKohler, which is present in many
projects spreading throughout Paraná and other Brazilian states,
not only selling equipment but also sharing know-how brought from
other countries.

The new family initiative that can guide new projects is a
biogas-fired power plant with an installed capacity of 75
kilowatts, built on the farm in partnership with the German company
Mele, with many “tropicalised” technological innovations.

“Such a unit is only viable above 150 kilowatts of power, a
scale that allows the cost of the investment to be recovered,”
Pedro Kohler, who leads the family’s industrial branch, told
IPS.

Schaefer looks at the question from the angle of the consumer
who generates his own energy. “Without biogas my factory would
not be viable, I would not be able to compete and survive in the
market,” he said.

In recent years, many ceramic products factories, including
brick-makers, went bankrupt in Brazil, something that also happened
in the west of the state of Paraná, after the national economic
recession of 2015 and 2016, which especially affected the
construction industry and aggravated the rise in energy costs.

The pig fattening contract with the slaughterhouse allowed him
to avoid bankruptcy, the businessman said.

Pedro Kohler, who heads a biodigester company in the western Brazilian state of Paraná, stands between a biodigester and deposits of biogas and biofertilisers from the thermoelectric plant he installed on his family's farm in the municipality of Cándido Rondon. Innovative technologies and equipment, provided by their German partner Mele, will modernise the biogas sector in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pedro Kohler, who heads a biodigester company in the western
Brazilian state of Paraná, stands between a biodigester and
deposits of biogas and biofertilisers from the thermoelectric plant
he installed on his family’s farm in the municipality of Cándido
Rondon. Innovative technologies and equipment, provided by their
German partner Mele, will modernise the biogas sector in Brazil.
Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The meat-packing plant supplies everything: food, medicine
and technical assistance. What I provide is the installations and
the workforce; a couple of workers is enough because everything is
automatic, and I keep the manure,” he told IPS on his rural
property.

That makes it possible for him to deposit 1.8 million litres of
pig waste in the biodigester, a large closed ball of black canvas,
half buried in a pit measuring about 10 metres in diameter, where
it ferments thanks to anaerobic bacteria.

The biodigester is the source of the biogas that feeds a
generator which produces 23,000 megawatts/hour per month, enough to
save 25,000 reais (6,500 dollars at the current exchange rate) –
almost half of his electricity bill.

Actually, his mini-plant operates only four to five hours a day.
It does so during peak evening consumption hours, when the
electricity supplied by the distribution company is most
expensive.

In the next few months, Schaefer hopes to put an additional
2,000 piglets in his fattening shed, where he is building new
pigsties. He would thus expand biogas production, both to generate
more electricity and to feed the kilns, replacing the burning of
briquettes and wood waste.

The businessman has 19 years of experience with biogas,
initially focused on burning it as a substitute for firewood, which
was scarce, and on preventing pollution. As he explains, he proudly
points to his “smokeless” fireplace.

In 2013, rising costs forced him to expand the biodigester and
install the electric generator.

He also had to automate his factory to survive. “In the past
we employed up to 90 workers, today there are only 20 and
production has risen threefold,” he said.

Long sheds where thousands of pigs are fattened are becoming a familiar part of the landscape in rural areas of Entre Rios del Oeste, in southwestern Brazil, where a Mini Thermoelectric Plant was inaugurated on Jul. 24. The plant runs on biogas produced by a network of 18 pig farms and supplies the city government facilities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Long sheds where thousands of pigs are fattened are becoming a
familiar part of the landscape in rural areas of Entre Rios del
Oeste, in southwestern Brazil, where a Mini Thermoelectric Plant
was inaugurated on Jul. 24. The plant runs on biogas produced by a
network of 18 pig farms and supplies the city government
facilities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Behind the progress made was great persistence, the ironing out
of numerous problems and third party assistance. Sometimes he
almost gave up, he confessed. Some solutions came to him by chance,
like the biodigestion mixer recommended by a German embassy
official, during a visit to his company.

Similarly, he learned about the advantages of incorporating
waste whey into cheese production. This offers the dairy industry a
sure way to dispose of it, while preventing pollution.

The main source of learning, technical support and drive for the
various projects in western Paraná is the International Center for Renewable
Energy-Biogas
(CIBiogas), which operates in the Itaipu Technology Park.

Founded in 2013 as a non-profit association of 27 national,
local and international institutions, CIBIogas has a specialised
laboratory and implemented 11 biogas projects on farms and in
agribusiness enterprises.

It is an energy source with varied uses and inputs that requires
a lengthy learning process and depends on business models and
markets that have yet to be defined and are not yet consolidated,
said Rafael González, director of Technological Development at
CIBiogás.

Each project has its unique characteristics. Changes in animal
feed, which primarily seek to improve the production of meat or
eggs, for example, can negatively affect the production of
biogas.

“The hormones in pigs change their waste and biogas,”
González told IPS.

There are also differences between animal manures, said Daiana
Martinez, information analyst at CIBiogas. Cattle manure, for
example, is more productive, but contains a high level of hydrogen
sulfide (H2S) that causes corrosion, requiring more refining.

González said biomethane is the fuel currently used by 82
Itaipu cars and has already been approved in tests with tractors,
buses and other large vehicles. It is best to produce it from bird
droppings, which facilitate the removal of hydrogen sulfide and
carbon dioxide, he explained.

Biogas can meet up to 36 percent of the electricity consumption
of this South American country, which is the size of a continent
and is home to 210 million people, CIBiogas estimates.

This potential is basically divided between agricultural waste,
which includes livestock and sugarcane vinasse, and urban waste,
including sewage and garbage dumps.

In addition to avoiding pollution and the emission of greenhouse
gases, biogas has been shown by local experience to promote local
development, through energy projects and a chain of businesses,
such as equipment industries, services and productive arrangements,
González said.

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Producing Energy from Pig and Poultry Waste in Brazil