• US is a potential $500m+ market opportunity for Limerick-based business
  • Environmental regulations are transforming global poultry business

Irish agri-tech business BHSL has agreed a $3m pilot project with the State of Maryland to trial its pioneering manure-to-energy technology which is aimed at transforming the environmental impact of the global poultry industry.

The patented BHSL Energy Centre to be used in the project was shipped from BHSL’s plant in Ballagh, County Limerick last week and will be fully operational by October. The State of Maryland has provided $1m funding to support this pilot project, with the balance of the $3m investment funded by BHSL.

BHSL’s technology converts poultry manure into energy, which is then used to provide heating for future batches of chicks, or sold back into the electricity grid. BHSL’s system is the only one available that meets both US and EU environmental regulations, and has over 110,000 operational hours on UK farms

Maryland is one of six states in the US that surround Chesapeake Bay, where, after decades of intensive agriculture, many fields are overloaded with phosphorus. Over 1bn chickens are produced in the region each year (12% of total US production), resulting in the production of an estimated 1.2m tonnes of manure, which is contributing pollutants that flow into the Bay, causing severe environmental problems including algal bloom and damage to fish  and shellfish stocks.

With 11,000 commercial poultry farms in the US producing 7.5bn chickens each year, BHSL is targeting the US as a key export market.  BHSL’s system is already fully operational on 2 UK farms with further installations anticipated in 2016. The company is already building a very strong sales pipeline for product delivery in 2017 in other export markets such as New Zealand, Poland, Germany, Holland, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Commenting on the project, Declan O’Connor, Chief Executive of BHSL said:

“The potential size of the US market opportunity for BHSL is conservatively estimated at over $500m. In the Chesapeake Bay region alone over 1bn chickens are reared each year and state governments are increasingly aware of the environmental challenges the poultry manure by-product poses for the Bay and the water sources that flow into it. Our unique solution can both reduce costs and increase revenue for the farmers while solving the environmental challenge they face. We are very excited about the potential to grow our sales in the US following the State of Maryland demonstration.”

Ann Swanson, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission said:

“BHSL’s solution has the potential to play a very significant role in reducing levels of pollution in the Bay. We have been looking for options to address the Bay’s environmental challenges while supporting the farm community.   If it works, it will be one of those win-win situations, with a financial benefit to the farmer and a positive environmental impact. I hope that the pilot project is successful so that other farmers are encouraged to do the same”.

Jack O’Connor, founder and brother of CEO Declan, is BHSL’s Chief Technology Officer who designed the patent-protected system said:

Ten years ago our family poultry farm in Limerick was on the verge of closure as it couldn’t operate within strict new EU regulations on ground water pollution.That gave me the idea to develop this miniature fluidised bed technology which has now been tried and tested, with over 110,000 hours of successful operation on farms in Ireland and the UK. BHSL is now aggressively ramping up its sales operations and we see a major global opportunity to export our product and add jobs to our team of 28 who already work in the business.”

BHSL’s system works by collecting poultry litter left behind on a chicken house's floor, which is then burned in a heated layer of sand suspended over jets of air in a process called fluidised bed combustion or FBC. The process creates the energy that heats the chicken houses and any excess energy can be sold as electricity back to the power grid. The main by-product is an ash that can be sold as fertilizer that is non-polluting and only 8% of the volume of the original material used, making it cost effective to transport to grain-growing areas outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Based on farmer Bob Murphy’s 112 acre farm in Rhodesdale, Maryland, the impact of the BHSL system will be closely monitored by researchers from the Universities of Maryland and Georgia to ensure all findings are verified by an independent third party. 

Murphy’s farm produces 3,650 tons of manure annually which historically has been trucked to other farms for use as fertiliser, but that is not a long-term solution as other farms, like Murphy’s, will soon have soil phosphorus concentrations that exceed agreed limits.

The pilot project is supported by Mountaire, which is the poultry company Bob Murphy’s farm grows chickens for, and is the 7th largest chicken producer in the US, selling over 330m birds each year.

Farmers who use BHSL’s system can benefit from:

  • Reduced environmental impact:A significant reduction in the environmental impact thereby ensuring compliance with an increasingly strict regulatory environment, both in the US and EU
  • Lower energy costs:A potential 95% reduction in energy costs through using heat from the manure as a source for heating a new batch of chicks, who must be started at a temperature of 32 degrees celsius / 90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Improved animal welfare:Improved biosecurity and animal welfare, with reduced risk of diseases
  • Improved performance:Faster growth – chicks reaching target weight 3 days quicker
  • Additional revenue: Revenue earned from the sale of excess electricity and a (non-polluting) fertiliser by-product

Jack and Declan O'Connor