Biodiesel fuel from about a 250,000 hogs is scheduled to start flowing in a few weeks. It will be produced in a new plant near Fort Worth, Texas, constructed by a Smithfield Foods subsidiary. Biomethanol used to make the biodiesel will come from the company’s plant at its Circle Four Farms in Utah.

Both plants are owned and managed by Best Biomassl LLC. Majority owner is Smithfield and minor partners are others interested in the technologies. (Best stands for Biomass Energy Sustainable Technology.) President is Jerrell Branson and Dr. Garth Boyd, Smithfield’s Director of Environmental Technology, is a vice president.

In making biodiesel, animal fat will be blended with biomethanol made from hog waste. The fat, which Boyd says costs only 9 cents to 10 cents a pound, will greatly reduce the cost of the final product compared with biodiesel made with soybean oil. The retail service-station price is expected to be competitive with conventional diesel fuel.

In Utah, the liquid hog waste comes to the biogas plant from 12,000-head finishing barns on 23 of Smithfield’s Circle Four farms through a 40-mile network of pipes.

The first step of the biogas-making process is clarifying the liquid hog waste. This is done in two huge clarifying tanks. The clarified water is recycled back to the hog barns and used for flushing. Outgoing water pipes parallel the incoming hog-waste pipes

After dewatering in the clarifiers, the remaining hog waste goes into two, 4-million-gallon digesters which produce biogas. About a third is used to maintain the digesters at 95 F. The balance of the biogas is made into liquid biomethanol, which will be shipped by rail to the Texas biodiesel-manufacturing plant. About 85 percent of the hog manure’s solid components are used.    

Next month, a team of USDA Animal Research Service scientists and several land-grant university specialists will inspect and evaluate the Utah-based biogas plant to determine its effects on the environment.

Boyd said an open house for the public is to be held at the biogas plant near Milford, Utah in early September.

Ultimately, Smithfield may expand the manure-to-biogas process to North Carolina. A major hurdle is collecting enough hog waste from smaller farms spread over a wider area.