​Power to the people through pig poop.

That’s the business mission of a new Wilmington company, Optima BioEnergy, that is aiming to capture renewable natural gas from swine manure that would otherwise decay and pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

The company’s first project, undertaken by its limited liability company Optima KV, will generate natural gas from 60,000 hogs at three farms in nearby Duplin County, the heart of North Carolina’s 9-million-hog pork industry. The gas will be sold to Duke Energy to generate electricity.

“Optima is excited about this partnership with Duke Energy and North Carolina swine farmers,” says Gus Simmons, a partner in Optima KV who designed the biogas system. “Our on-farm digesters will integrate with and support the farmers’ existing operations. By centralizing the gas processing, we can take advantage of cost efficiencies and provide carbon-neutral fuel for Duke’s existing power plants. It’s a great benefit for the environment and for the economy.”

The project will be the first of its kind in North Carolina to inject renewable natural gas into the natural gas system, says Mark Maloney, founder and CEO of Optima BioEnergy.

The project will benefit from $6.5 million in federal Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs) that reduce interest rates on debt for energy-conservation projects. Maloney says the North Carolina Biotechnology Center helped the company acquire unused QECBs.

“The Biotech Center has been tremendous in supporting Optima KV,” Maloney says. “They have assisted with introductions, referrals and assistance in obtaining QECB allocations from neighboring counties who were not using theirs.”

Operational by Summer 2017

Construction of five waste digesters on the Duplin County farms is expected to begin in December and be completed by June 2017, Maloney says.

The digesters will be situated in large pits called lagoons that hog farms use to store animal waste. The lagoons will be covered to keep oxygen out.

The oxygen-free environment will allow anaerobic bacteria to grow and feed on the waste. As the bacteria digest the carbon in the manure, they will give off methane, or natural gas, and carbon dioxide.

Pipes and pumps will carry the captured biogas to a central facility where it will be cleaned and injected into the natural gas pipeline system.

Duke Energy will burn the gas at two power plants in Wayne and New Hanover counties, generating 11,000 megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power about 880 homes annually.

“We see continued advancement in this technology in North Carolina,” says David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. “This project has environmental benefits and is cost-effective for our customers.”

The power will be carbon neutral compared to the emissions that would result if the hog waste was left to decay using current methods, Duke says.

North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS), enacted in 2007, requires utility companies to generate certain amounts of their electricity from renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and biomass. A small fraction of electricity must be derived from swine and poultry manure.

North Carolina has about 2,100 hog farms and 5,700 poultry farms. It is the nation’s second largest pork producer and third largest producer of broiler chickens.

In March Duke Energy announced another swine-waste-to-energy project with Carbon Cycle Energy of Boulder, Colo. Duke will burn hog-derived biogas at four power plants in North Carolina.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center