There are many origin stories for barbecue, but urban legend has it that when settlers came to new world and found wild hogs in abundance, they had the first barbecue. Others suggest that Spanish Conquistadors encountered “barbacoa” in the West Indies, and slowly diffused knowledge about its methods northward to what eventually became America. Whatever the case for its origins, there is no doubt it has evolved into an important cultural dish in the United States — varying widely from region to region.
North Carolinians love our barbecue and have a distinctive style that sets us apart from Memphis, Kansas City, and Texas barbecue. In our great state, whole hog is also slow, pit-roasted, and curated with vinegar and salt (sauce and coleslaw optional). North Carolina style barbecue is succulent, and slides off the bone. “Cooking a pig” and holding a “pig pickin” are commonplace here, and barbecue is ingrained in our culture.
But with great barbecue comes great responsibility. Try as we might to use the “whole hog,” we produce a lot of, to put it as lightly as possible, byproducts. Beyond the “leftovers,” there is also a great deal of waste (e.g.,, manure), and all of this waste has to go somewhere. With our massive appetite for barbecue and other pig products, there is a lot of waste to dispose of.
NC Pig Production
According to Renewable Magazine, in 2012 North Carolina ranked third in the nation in pig production with 2,100 hog farms producing more than 18 million hogs at a total value of $2.9 billion. Most NC hog farms are family owned, with farm sizes ranging from a few hogs to tens of thousands. According to Renewable Magazine,
“The pork industry is an important part of North Carolina’s economy, providing approximately 46,000 full-time paychecks and contributing $11 billion annually to our state’s economy. Simply put, the pig business is big business in North Carolina.”
Hogs & Energy
Beyond our large number of hogs, NC is also the only state in the Southeast US to have REPs laws, and furthermore Renewable Magazine states that “North Carolina is the only state to have a specific carve-out for electricity generated from animal waste as part of a clean energy law.”
What’s the energy opportunity? Swine waste. And the methane it produces. It’s like solid gold in the renewable energy world. Swine waste is an inevitable byproduct, and it has to be disposed of somehow. Why not turn it into energy and revenue?
Putting this entire equation together, a picture begins to emerge:
BBQ + Waste + (REPs * Animal Waste Provision) = Energy Opportunity
Energy providers have to incorporate swine waste into their energy mix already, and we can use it to produce energy that powers homes and businesses, while generating revenue that can potentially pay for farm operating costs or turn a profit.
North Carolina is ideally suited to be the hog-to-energy capital of the US. According to Biomass Magazine, as of 2015, the American Biogas Council ranked North Carolina No. 3 for methane production potential (MPP) from biogas sources and identified 75 operational biogas projects. Of the 75, 10 were classified as agriculture projects.
“Considering the fact that agriculture brings $84 billion to North Carolina’s economy, and many communities rely on (agriculture) to stay afloat, we must find new and reliable ways to sustain ag through new markets, like bioenergy. As an engineer who helps design AD technology to capture methane on farms to create electricity from animal waste, I have seen firsthand that the benefits go well beyond economics.”
Renewable Magazine points out that in addition to energy that can be produced through methane gas, there are also methods for liquefying biogas for use as fuel in vehicles. Smithfield Foods out of Warsaw, North Carolina, is working on an $80 million project to capture biogas from nearly 100 hundred “hog lagoons.” They’re plan is to produce a source of renewable natural gas (RNG) for distributing RNG to vehicle fleets.
Biomass magazine puts our potential in clear focus: North Carolina has 15 agricultural biogas projects currently online, but we have the potential to launch more than 900 biogas projects. Farms like Bulter Bioenergy and Loyd Ray Farms are excellent examples of farmers making great use of swine biofuel. Many farmers are choosing to leverage other forms of renewable energy as well.
“…the greatest energy resource of the U.S. is availed through the utilization of our organic wastes fueling bioenergy systems – which is infinitely renewable.” – Gus Simmons, Bioenergy expert, Cavanaugh and Associates
The waste-to-energy market is full of opportunity for North Carolina. Harnessing this energy potential could be lucrative for farmers and our growing energy economy. Those farmers who have taken steps to diversify their operations with renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuel may not become wealthy overnight from their efforts, but when they are able to cover their operating costs through additional revenue, we imagine that makes them happy as pigs in… well, you get the point.