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Smithfield Foods generating RNG from Tar Heel wastewater treatment plant

In the United States (US), Smithfield Foods, Inc., in partnership with Duke Energy Inc., and OptimaBio, LLC, is now producing biomethane (aka renewable natural gas – RNG) from the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) system at its Tar Heel, North Carolina (NC) pork processing facility. The three companies are utilizing the world’s largest pork processing facility to provide renewable energy to consumers while reducing their own, and the state of North Carolina’s, carbon footprint.

In the United States (US), Smithfield Foods, Inc., in partnership with Duke Energy Inc., and OptimaBio, LLC, is now producing renewable natural gas (RNG) from the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) system at its Tar Heel, North Carolina (NC) pork processing facility (photo courtesy Duke Energy).

The US$14 million project is the latest from Smithfield Renewables, Smithfield Foods’ platform to unify and accelerate its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent by 2025 compared to a 2010 baseline.

Through a partnership with Duke Energy, roughly 140 000 dekatherms (≈ 41 GWh) of renewable natural gas (RNG) per year will be transported to natural gas plants and used to generate electricity for consumers. help power more than 2 000 local homes and businesses.

This project brings to life all three of our company’s guiding principles – Responsibility, Operational Excellence, and Innovation. For the first time, we are creating renewable energy from the biogas generated in our wastewater treatment system and using it to power local communities. With the help of our partners, we are producing additional value for our company and our neighbors—a concept that is ingrained in our culture, said Kenneth M. Sullivan, President, and CEO for Smithfield Foods.

Largest wastewater project to date

Smithfield Food is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. To date, this is one of Smithfield’s largest renewable energy projects involving wastewater and the company’s first in North Carolina (NC). Smithfield also has “wastewater-to-energy” projects at its Milan, Missouri (MO); Grayson, Kentucky (KY); and Sioux Falls, South Dakota (SD) facilities, which are used to power their modified steam boilers.

The company’s Tar Heel, NC, project utilizes a biogas upgrading and injection system operated by OptimaBio, LLC, a bioenergy project developer, which leverages the facility’s three million-gallon-per-day (≈  wastewater treatment system to collect and clean biogas through an existing on-site digester and convert it into RNG.

We are proud to partner with Smithfield on this project, which has far-reaching and positive impacts for the environment, the local community, and industries that are key to the state’s economy. We’re helping diversify and strengthen North Carolina’s renewable energy portfolio through this endeavor, said Mark Maloney, CEO and Founder at OptimaBio, LLC.

Once converted, the RNG is injected into the Piedmont Natural Gas system, and then transported to Duke Energy to produce electricity. This project will help Duke Energy satisfy state swine waste-to-energy mandates under the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard law in North Carolina. Under this law, Duke Energy must generate 0.20 percent of its retail sales from swine waste by 2024.

At Duke Energy, we are seeking innovative and cleaner energy solutions. Buying the output from Smithfield’s renewable natural gas project will allow us to expand our diverse generation mix in North Carolina. This project is creating safe and affordable energy that customers can rely on, said Stephen De May, President Duke Energy North Carolina.

Reducing GHG emissions across Smithfield’s operations

In addition to creating renewable energy at its facilities, Smithfield is implementing projects on its farms that transform manure into RNG. These projects capture methane from manure, and clean and convert it into RNG, which is then injected into local natural gas distribution systems for homes and businesses.

In the next decade, Smithfield is implementing “manure-to-energy” projects in at least six states including Arizona, California, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. Manure management has been identified by the company as accounting for 40-45 percent of GHG emissions of its US operations Smithfield Food is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer.

Smithfield Renewables partnered with the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NorthStar). NorthStar provided the data, tools, and analytical expertise necessary to trace its agricultural supply chain, from grain farms to kitchens. Through this partnership, the baseline 2010 GHG emissions for Smithfield Foods domestic (US) operations (graphic courtesy Smithfield Foods).

Smithfield Renewables partnered with the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NorthStar). NorthStar provided the data, tools, and analytical expertise necessary to trace its agricultural supply chain, from grain farms to kitchens. Through this partnership, the baseline 2010 GHG emissions for Smithfield Foods domestic (US) operations.

With the help of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the company established a goal for its domestic operations to reduce absolute GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2025 compared to its 2010 baseline – the first protein company to make such a commitment. A wide range of projects are underway that include:

  • Developing “manure-to-energy” projects at 90 percent of hog finishing spaces in North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia and nearly all hog finishing spaces in Missouri over the next decade.
  • Partnering to create fertilizer from hog manure that outperforms traditional commercial-grade fertilizer.
  • Streamlining its logistics network and adopting new technologies to reduce truck miles driven.
  • Launching an ambitious solid waste reduction plan at all of its US facilities to be achieved by 2025.
  • Implementing ongoing operational efficiency projects that result in lower energy use, including refrigeration, lighting, and other equipment projects.

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