Google endorses hog waste-to-energy project

By Matt Soberg | September 12, 2011

In 2007, Google made a commitment to be carbon neutral and began to invest in renewable energy and purchase carbon offsets. The company recently expanded its renewable scope by endorsing a pilot hog waste-to-energy (WtE) facility in North Carolina that was constructed by Duke University and Duke Energy.

“We’re particularly proud of the hog farm project as it represents our new partnership with Duke University,” says Jolanka Nickerman, program manager of Google’s carbon offsets program. “The system reduces greenhouse gas emissions, generates electricity, makes for a healthier local environment and benefits farmers and communities economically.”

The anaerobic digester was built at Loyd Ray Farms, a 9,000-head swine operation in northwest Yadkinville, N.C. Duke University and Duke Energy spearheaded the $1.2 million carbon neutral system, and designed it to be open-sourced, meaning anyone can install the system on their farm to produce power and reduce carbon emissions, according to Tatjana Vujic of the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative.

The carbon offsets generated by the project represent a reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions, resulting from processing the methane produced by hog waste. The revenue received from the purchase of the offsets is used, in part, to finance the project. The system is expected to prevent nearly 5,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year, which is comparable to taking 900 cars off the road, according to a Duke press release.

In addition to reducing emissions, the methane is burned to power a microturbine that generates electricity to operate the farm. The system produces enough electricity to power 35 homes annually. 

The WtE facility has been in development for nearly three years, with additional grant funding from the USDA and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Lagoon Conversion Program, according a press release. Duke Energy and the university will share in the operational costs for 10 years, with Google assuming some costs in exchange for carbon offsets. 

“Through this pilot, Duke is showing how these projects can make economic sense for North Carolinians and lead to dramatic reductions in emissions over the long term,” Nickerman said. “We hope that technologies like this can scale across the U.S. and the world.” The true sign of success will be when other farms see the benefits of the system and ask Duke University or this farm in particular how they can do something similar.