Pig Power! Harnessing Methane to Power Homes Dramatically Reduces Carbon Footprint of Pork Production

October 15, 2019

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest hog and pork producer, found that more than 40 percent of their carbon footprint was tied to methane emitted from hog manure on their farms. 

They partnered with Dominion Energy, a power and energy company serving Virginia, North Carolina, and surrounding states, and found a methane-reduction solution — one that, for starters, will power thousands of homes annually, put money in farmers’ pockets, and help Smithfield exceed its goal to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent by 2025.

Align Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)SM is a joint initiative between the two industry leaders that will convert methane emitted by hog manure into clean renewable energy. 

Capturing methane before it is released into the atmosphere is a more efficient means of providing significantly cleaner air. RNG is considered carbon-negative because it captures significantly more GHG emissions than are released from its end use in homes and businesses.

Participating farmers will be paid based on the energy their farms produce from the methane emitted by their hog manure. The initiative provides Smithfield’s contract farmers with an additional stream of revenue from what is typically one of their largest costs: managing manure. 

According to Align (RNG)SM, these projects are expected to produce enough energy to reliably power about 14,000 homes. The reduction in GHG emissions would be the equivalent of planting nearly 14 million new trees or taking more than 100,000 cars off the road.

Over the next decade, the companies will invest $250 million into manure-to-energy projects at nearly 100 of Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in Virginia, North Carolina, and Utah.  

How Does Pig Power Work?

Renewable natural gas, or biomethane, is a pipeline-quality gas made from organic matter, such as hog manure.

The manure is captured in buildings and under the floors of facilities, then flushed to an anaerobic digester — also called a covered lagoon — which looks like a large tarp covering the ground.

Inside the lagoon, solid hog waste is broken down by bacteria, releasing methane gas. That gas is captured and moved to a processing facility, flowing through conditioning equipment designed to convert it into pipeline quality gas. These conditioning units process the gas produced by multiple farms, which is then injected into the pipeline for customer use.

That energy makes its way to homeowners nearby by way of a natural gas pipeline. The use of cleaned biogas will lower existing energy costs for customers.

Powering the Future

Implementation began in 2018 at hog finishing spaces in three main states: 19 farms in Virginia, 48 farms in North Carolina, and 26 farms in Utah. Some farms will receive updates to their existing anaerobic treatment lagoons while others will receive new covered digesters.

Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy don’t plan on stopping there. Beyond the next ten years, the two companies see the potential to leverage their resources, expertise, and market access to spread advancement across the country.

Align (RNG)SM aims to help both Virginia and North Carolina achieve their targets for reducing GHGs, while supporting the interests of farmers, energy consumers, food processors, neighbors, local municipalities, and the planet.

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