Technology makes meat processing byproducts suitable for AD

By Lisa Gibson | August 09, 2011

An Alberta, Canada, power plant slated for operation in 2013 will use anaerobic digestion (AD) to create 3 megawatts of power for sale to the grid, but will also use a unique technology to denature infectious proteins in its raw meat processing byproduct feedstock.

The thermal hydrolysis Biorefinex process was developed by Alberta-based private company Biosphere Technologies Inc. and has been through extensive testing in Europe to evaluate its denaturing capabilities that produce valuable organic nutrients in liquid slurry form perfectly suited for AD. “Since it’s already hydrolyzed, it speeds up the [AD] process,” said Biosphere Technologies president Erick Schmidt.

The two-hour process refines the raw materials into fatty acids, amino acids, minerals and other digestible elements, providing an environmentally beneficial alternative to landfilling or incineration of carcasses and organic waste.

“It’s dealing with a public health issue,” Schmidt said. Following an outbreak of mad cow disease in Canadian cattle, federal disposal regulations have created an economic challenge for the livestock industry and thousands of tons of carcass material are being buried or composted without certainty of prion destruction, according to Biosphere. The Biorefinex process is certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as an alternative for processing such material and has been adopted by the World Organization for Animal Health as a recommended process for the destruction of all transmissible spongiform encephalopathy and microbiological disease agents. “Everything that comes out is absolutely safe,” Schmidt said.

The Lacombe Biorefinery in Lacombe, Alberta, will be the first commercial-scale application of the technology. It will be designed to process about 50,000 metric tons per year of a wide range of inedible animal byproducts and carcass material derived from meat processors and farm mortalities serving the cattle, horse, pork, elk, bison and poultry industries, as well as organic wet waste from commercial and household sources, according to Biosphere. Feedstock contracts are under negotiation, Schmidt said. The $35 million CDN (USD $35.3 million) plant will include a Biorefinex processing pavilion, anaerobic digesters, biogas cogeneration systems, a greenhouse and visitor galleries. A portion of the plant will be reserved for continuing research projects.

Biosphere has started a subsidiary called Biorefinex that will build, own and operate the Lacombe Biorefinery, as well as begin branching out in both Canada and the U.S. Alberta represents a great location for the first installation because of its carbon credit program, Schmidt said. “Alberta is one of the few regions that have a carbon credit regime,” he said, adding that the sale of carbon credits to a large emitter will add to the revenue gained from power sales. Contracts for both outputs are in place, according to Schmidt. Because of the health issue mitigation, the project has received $10 million CDN from the provincial Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp.

“There’s a lot of interest [in the process],” Schmidt said. “People want to see a full-scale plant, so that’s what Lacombe is about.”