An Irish company that has pioneered the use of poultry manure as a fuel for heat generation on chicken farms is poised to target multi-million euro sales following a crucial change to EU regulations.
A recent Commission decision to allow the use of poultry manure as a fuel under existing animal by-product regulations means that Limerick energy firm bhsl Limited is in line to compete for lucrative contracts in Britain, continental Europe and the Americas.
West Limerick-based bhsl is a world leader in the adoption of innovative and patented fluidised bed combustion (FBC) technology for on-farm energy generation.
The commercialisation of the bhsl technology has now been given the green light as a result of the Commission's decision.
The EU Commission's move puts the Limerick firm in pole position to deliver its heat generation technology to a large number of poultry units in Britain and many more across the EU.
The Limerick concern has worked closely with the Department of Agriculture and EPA in Ireland and with DEFRA and the Environment Agency in Britain to provide the Commission with technical evidence to support the recent regulation change.
This decision becomes law across the EU in the coming months.
Declan O'Connor is CEO of bhsl which is based in the former Kantoher Creamery site at Killeedy, seven miles outside Newcastle West.
The firm is an Enterprise Ireland-backed company and employs 16 people, including Declan's brother and company founder Jack O'Connor who heads up the firm's research and development arm.
"Our system uses manure produced on the farm as the fuel to generate an abundant supply of indirect dry heat to the poultry growing facilities," Declan O'Connor explained.
"The novel approach allows the farmer to control humidity and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the sheds, creating the ideal environment for healthy bird growth.
"The improved bird welfare conditions, coupled with reduced fuel costs, means that the farmer can now produce healthier flocks more cost effectively, which is critical in this highly competitive business," he said.
It has been a long road for bhsl to get to this point. The company has been developing the innovative manure to energy technology for the past seven years.
In doing so the firm has used expertise provided by the University of Limerick and the Enterprise Ireland supported Technology Centre for Bioenergy and Biorefining
The company has also worked closely with leading British poultry farmers to fine-tune the technology and also to build up a bank of operating data.
The British farms are owned by Nigel and Patrick Joice of Uphouse Farm in Norfolk – former winners of the Poultry Farmer of the Year Award in Britain – and by Stephen Hay of Hay Farms outside Stratford-upon-Avon.
These progressive growers have been using bhsl technology for over three years and cited the lower operating costs, improved bird welfare and increased performance, as the main benefits of the system.
They maintain that enhanced welfare has been reflected in stronger food conversion ratios and lower levels of hock burn and pododermititis.
"Uphouse and Hay farms have 26 poultry houses between them and produce close to 8m birds a year.
"The economics of their poultry production has now been completely transformed by using their own fuel on-farm; this is a truly sustainable solution for the poultry sector," Mr O'Connor said.
Future bhsl plans include developing a combined heat and power (CHP) product as well as solutions for other farm by-products such as spent mushroom compost.
The company has already diversified. It has customised an innovative fuel handling system to manage manure in a bio-secure environment.
This technology, known as bhsl Toploader, is gaining popularity across the wider biomass industry and bhsl has recently signed contracts with British Gas and Cofely GDF Suez to install the bhsl Toploader at a number of sites in Britain.
Not bad for a small firm from west Limerick.