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Energy

Salvadoran Poultry Farms Produce Biogas, Easing Socio-environmental Conflicts

Two huge biodigesters process around 40,000 tons of organic waste produced by Grupo Campestre's poultry farms and other companies in El Salvador each year. This material is used to generate biogas to produce electricity that is injected into the national grid. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Two huge biodigesters process around 40,000 tons of organic waste produced by Grupo Campestre's poultry farms and other companies in El Salvador each year. This material is used to generate biogas to produce electricity that is injected into the national grid. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador, Mar 1 2024 (IPS) - In a win-win relationship, a segment of El Salvador’s agribusiness industry is taking steps to ease the tension of the historic socio-environmental conflict caused by poultry and pig farms, whose waste has caused concern and anger in nearby communities.

Today, some companies in the sector are converting the waste into biogas to produce electricity for their own consumption and to inject the rest into the national grid.

“People no longer say that the chicken manure is contaminating our water or land. That is very important for the community, now we don’t have to deal with that pollution anymore,” small farmer Elizabeth Méndez, who welcomes the investments made by Grupo Campestre to process the waste and generate biogas, told IPS.

"Things used to be different, there was a bad stench. But now we are living in a more favorable environment." -- Elizabeth Méndez

Méndez, 44, lives in the San Carlos El Amate canton, in the municipality of San Miguel in eastern El Salvador. Near her community is located one of the four poultry farms of Grupo Campestre, which owns several companies in the agribusiness sector and fried chicken restaurant chains.

“Things used to be different, there was a bad stench. But now we are living in a more favorable environment,” stressed Méndez, after a hard day working as a farm laborer, during an IPS tour of rural localities in San Miguel near poultry farms.

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, with 6.7 million inhabitants and a territory of 21,000 square kilometers, is the scene of disputes between poultry and pig farms and the rural families that live near them, as the industry has generally failed to manage its biowaste properly.

Elizabeth Méndez, who lives in the San Carlos El Amate canton, in the municipality of San Miguel in eastern El Salvador, says the biogas plant that processes waste has significantly reduced the pollution produced by a poultry farm installed in her community. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Elizabeth Méndez (left), who lives in the San Carlos El Amate canton, in the municipality of San Miguel in eastern El Salvador, says the biogas plant that processes waste has significantly reduced the pollution produced by a poultry farm installed in her community. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

 

Circular economy: biogas from manure

Grupo Campestre took a key step about four years ago when it decided to invest around seven million dollars to tackle the thorny issue of biowaste head-on, and acquired state-of-the-art technology to produce biogas, to generate electricity for consumption and injection into the national grid.

The company’s biogas plant is located in the El Brazo canton, also in San Miguel, near the area where the farms are located, which produce eight million chickens per year, whose manure is the main component to produce biogas.

All biowaste from the company’s various business activities, such as chicken manure from the farms and liquid and solid waste from the poultry processing plant, as well as biodegradable material from the fried chicken restaurants, are processed here.

“As part of the sustainability of operations, the need arises to move towards a circular economy model, to reincorporate waste into its life cycle, through reuse, recycling, or producing energy,” Jimmy Gómez, environmental compliance manager for Grupo Campestre, told IPS at the facility.

The biogas plant, in operation since 2021, processes some 40,000 tons per year of biological waste with energy potential, which is fed into two huge biodigesters where bacteria decompose the waste to generate gases such as methane, the main fuel that drives a generator with 850 kilowatts of installed power.

The biodigesters generate around 10,000 cubic meters of biogas per day, producing 17 megawatt hours a day of electricity.

A photo of one of Grupo Campestre's four poultry farms, which raise 200,000 chickens each. It is located on the outskirts of El Brazo, in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of San Miguel. Thanks to its biogas plant, the surrounding villages no longer have to put up with the foul odors emanating from the farms. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

A photo of one of Grupo Campestre’s four poultry farms, which raise 200,000 chickens each. It is located on the outskirts of El Brazo, in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of San Miguel. Thanks to its biogas plant, the surrounding villages no longer have to put up with the foul odors emanating from the farms. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

“Today chicken manure is the main waste product that is given new value at the biogas plant, generating about 80 percent of all the energy we produce and sell,” said Gómez, a chemical engineer.

Grupo Campestre has entered into an energy sales contract with Empresa de Electricidad de Oriente, one of the four electric power distribution companies in El Salvador, owned by AES El Salvador, a subsidiary of the U.S. transnational AES Corporation.

“We resolved a socio-environmental issue, which brought complaints from nearby communities about bad odors and flies, and we turned it into an opportunity, which has also helped us to provide support to the other companies in the group,” said Gómez.

When the plant began to operate, it was also necessary to address the noise pollution caused by the generator that produces the biogas. The solution was to enclose it in a metal container so that the sound now does not exceed 50 decibels and cannot be heard from 20 meters away.

Part of the energy generated, around 50 kilowatts, is used for the plant’s own consumption, production manager Rubén Membreño told IPS. In addition, hundreds of solar panels, placed on the roof of a large shed containing thousands of chickens, generate 5.5 megawatts per hour per day.

This energy efficiency provides the company with the capacity to even provide waste processing services to other companies in the agroindustrial sector that have not yet made the necessary investments to carry out the transition.

“We are taking advantage of all the waste from our own companies, and also from other companies. For them it is waste but for us it is our raw material” to generate electricity, Membreño pointed out.

The technology used in the plant was provided by European companies, mainly from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, he said.

Jimmy Gómez (left), environmental compliance manager, and Rubén Membreño, production manager of Grupo Campestre, inspect the 850 kilowatt generator that produces electricity from biogas generated by the company's activities. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Jimmy Gómez (left), environmental compliance manager, and Rubén Membreño, production manager of Grupo Campestre, inspect the 850 kilowatt generator that produces electricity from biogas generated by the company’s activities. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

 

Relief for the climate

Methane, the main gas produced in the bacterial decomposition process in the biodigester, is one of the major pollutants and causes of the greenhouse effect. But using it in the production of electricity prevents it from being released into the atmosphere, thus alleviating the effects of climate change.

According to company estimates, methane makes up 60 percent of the plant’s biogas production process, thereby “capturing” around 24,000 tons of CO2 or carbon dioxide per year, which damages the atmosphere and impacts life on the planet through climate change that produces extreme rainfall and droughts.

If that methane were not “burned” at the plant, “it would remain on the ground, in the open and would go into the atmosphere,” said Gómez.

Another agroindustrial company that has included new technologies to process its waste and generate biogas is Avícola El Granjero, which produces eggs from farms with more than one million hens.

Its 5,000 cubic meter biodigester produces the biogas that drives two 360 kilowatt generators, and the resulting electricity is fed into the national grid.

Granja San José, in the poultry and swine industry, also has a biodigester that processes the manure from 13,000 hogs and 75,000 hens.

One of the first phases of biogas production at the Grupo Campestre plant in central El Salvador consists of depositing biological material in huge underground tanks to begin the decomposition process. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

One of the first phases of biogas production at the Grupo Campestre plant in central El Salvador consists of depositing biological material in huge underground tanks to begin the decomposition process. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Pending disputes

But despite these strides, the poultry and swine farming sector has not completely reconverted and socio-environmental conflicts are still simmering in several parts of the country.

In May 2023, IPS reported on the struggle of rural villages near the municipality of Suchitoto, in the central Salvadoran department of Cuscatlán, to defend their community water system, built in 2002, which will be affected by Avícola Salvadoreña, a company that is building an agribusiness farm nearby.

“The work has continued, trucks with construction materials are passing by all the time,” Blanca Portillo, a resident of Nueva Consolación, one of the seven rural settlements affected by the project, told IPS in a conversation on Feb. 28.

Portillo said local residents have learned that a court, which is handling the conflict, has requested that the poultry company carry out a new environmental impact study and citizen input consultation, due to apparent violations committed previously.

Many of the nearby villages are not supplied by the national grid, and have worked hard to set up their own community water projects, which are now at risk of being contaminated with waste from the farm.

“The authorities have told us that they will not give water exploitation permits to the company if there is a risk of contamination. But we don’t know if they are just saying that to keep us quiet,” said Portillo, a member of the Haciendita Rural Water and Sanitation Association, which serves some 1,000 families in seven communities, including Nueva Consolación.

 
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