Meet the Limerick firm aiming to solve Maryland's poultry manure problem

BHSL has signed a $3m deal that could ultimately present a $500m opportunity in the US...

West Limerick agri-tech firm BHSL has agreed a $3m deal with the US state of Maryland to pilot its proprietory technology that converts chicken manure to heat energy and a non-polluting ash-type fertiliser.

The state itself awarded BHSL $1m for the pilot scheme, with the company putting in the additional funds itself.

Maryland and adjoining states on the US Eastern Seaboard produce raise about 1 billion chickens per year – about one eighth of the US total – and produce more than 1.2m tonnes of manure that has traditionally been spread on the land.

Pollution concerns means BHSL now has the only system that meets new US and EU environmental regulations. It is already operational on a number of large UK farms.

Speaking to Vincent Wall on Business Breakfast, BHSL chief executive Declan O'Connor explained that new laws in Maryland restricting land-spreading over the next five years were "a major problem for the industry, and we're solving that problem."

He said:

"We're taking a bi-product, which is the manure which is seen as a problem, and transforming that as a fuel on the farm which really creates a sustainable agricultural solution for the industry, particularly in Maryland."

The company will generate €20m in revenues and move into profit this year and plans to increase its workforce from 30 to 100 over the next five years, particularly if the US market opens up.

The Maryland pilot scheme will take about a year. O'Connor called it "an enormous opportunity" for the small, rural Irish company.

"Just in terms of scale, there's 11,000 broiler farms in the US commercially. 1,600 of those farms are in the Chesapeake Bay region, which covers six states. Maryland alone [has] just under 500 farms."

O'Connor said that as "market leaders" in poultry manure-to-energy technology, BHSL is creating a triple bottom line for farms.

"We're saving on fossil fuels, which is the traditional energy source, we're increasing production efficiency through heat saving, and we're attracting green subsidies, which is part now of most countries commitment to climate change."

Asked whether future expansion – if the demonstration project is successful and BHSL's endeavours gather momentum – would represent a half billion dollar opportunity, O'Connor replied: