Smithfield and Dominion team up to produce power from hog gas

By: - November 27, 2018 3:49 pm

A pig on display in a livestock competition at the Highland County Fair. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Two massive companies have launched a new initiative to make the most of hog gas from dozens of operations in three states, including Virginia.

Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods announced a joint venture Tuesday, dubbed Align Renewable Natural Gas, aimed at using methane from hog farms as a power source here as well as in North Carolina and Utah.

The two companies are jointly investing $250 million in the venture over the next 10 years.

Pigs produce methane in their waste. And methane’s impact on climate change is considerable because, as a greenhouse gas, it is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to a Smithfield and Dominion news release.

“Our companies recognize the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the future of our planet,” Tom Farrell, Dominion CEO, said in a news release.

The company has faced widespread criticism for the potential climate effects of its 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will bring Marcellus shale gas for utilities from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina.

In total, agriculture emissions account for nine percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Align Renewable Natural Gas will involve capturing the methane that would otherwise get released into the atmosphere and treating it in anaerobic digesters, according to the new company’s website. There, the “solids in manure are converted by bacteria into biogas, which then flows through conditioning equipment to convert to pipeline-quality gas,” the website states.

It can then be used as a power source, to heat homes or businesses, for example.

“Capturing the methane from hog farms reduces the use of traditionally-sourced natural gas and keeps greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere,” the companies said. “It can be stored and delivered to homes and businesses through existing natural gas infrastructure, making it a cost-effective, renewable option.”

The website adds that the waste that is not used for natural gas will be applied as a crop fertilizer.

The digesters are covers that sit over hog farm lagoons and capture the gas, which the company suggests could protect the farms from hurricanes or intense rain, potentially preventing situations like those that North Carolina saw after Hurricane Florence, when 5,000 animals died and the lagoons overflowed.

Work should begin late this year, with the first project in Waverly, Va., expected to be up and running in late 2019. In total, 19 Virginia farms, most of which are owned by contract farmers, will be included in the project.

Swine are the No. 13 agricultural commodity in Virginia, accounting for $45 million in cash receipts, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

“This partnership with two leading Virginia based companies shows the power of Virginia’s largest industry — agriculture — to promote cleaner energy, sustainable family farms, and a brighter future for rural communities here in the commonwealth and nationwide,” Bettina RingVirginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, said in the news release.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor

Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.