New heater uses chicken manure fuel First models going to Shore poultry houses

Environmentally friendly

Government agencies invest in Hampstead man's innovation

Inventions

September 07, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Steve Vayda is not making any big claims -- not yet anyway.

But the Hampstead resident just may have come up with an idea that could help scientists solve the Pocomoke River fish kill, while putting a little extra money in the pockets of Eastern Shore chicken growers.

Vayda, a 53-year old mechanical engineer who has spent his career designing giant boilers for electric power plants, has developed a furnace that uses chicken manure to heat poultry houses.

The system has captured the attention of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy.

They are not just offering Vayda encouragement. They are helping to bankroll his venture.

"Given what is happening with the fish kills here and in Virginia, Vayda's furnace may be very, very timely," said Ronald Blank, director of the Investment Financing Group at DBED. "If you have a system that can help with a major environmental problem, reduce the volume of chicken manure on the Eastern Shore and heat the chicken houses, you're a hero."

So far, no direct link has been made between the fish kill and chicken manure, but scientists who have studied Pfiesteria piscicida say it thrives in waters degraded by nutrient pollution from sewage and animal waste.

The state has purchased an equity in Vayda Energy Associates Inc. through a $50,000 DBED investment, and it is considering another $25,000 stake.

In addition, Vayda has received a $50,000 loan from the USDA and a $20,000 grant from the Energy Department.

"We are at risk," said Blank of DBED. "We are his business partner. If he does well, we get our money back, and more. If he flops, we lose too."

Vayda said it's not just the taxpayers who stand to lose. "I'm taking a tremendous risk," he said, noting he's invested $150,000 -- his life savings -- in the venture.

He has a wife who works part time and four children.

Vayda, who has a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Cranfield University near London, came to the United States in 1982.

He worked for PyroPower Inc., an Atlanta company involved in the manufacturing of industrial boilers used in electric power generation. In 1987 he set up a consulting business in San Diego that worked with power companies installing new boiler systems.

Three years ago he moved to Maryland and helped establish Outokumpu Eco Energy Inc. in Owings Mills, which made boilers that burned waste material and the sludge from the bottom of industrial oil tanks.

When the company was acquired, Vayda returned to consulting and began tinkering with his chicken manure heating system.

The prototype unit is being built by Delmarva Sheet Metal Co. in Pittsville, about six miles east of Salisbury. "We should have the first unit ready by the end of October," Vayda said. It will be installed as a test unit at the farm of Ben Thomas in Atlantic on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

The furnace will be set up to heat two of the six 25,000-bird chicken houses at the farm.

"I'm no scientist, but it seems to me that this technology has some potential," said William Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., in Georgetown, Del.

The system works this way: The lower portion of the furnace is filled with a sand-like material. When air is blown through the sand and the sand is heated to 1,500 degrees, it acts like boiling water. "When you inject the chicken manure into the bubbling sand, it will burn very cleanly and efficiently," Vayda said.

Heating chicken houses in the winter is a big cost, said Blank. Most farmers use a propane heating system and the cost of fuel normally runs between $2,000 and $3,000 a year for a single house.

"The temperature in these chicken houses needs to be maintained at 96 degrees," Blank said. "Because the cost of heating is so high, farmers hate to open the windows during the winter to vent the [chicken] houses of threatening ammonia and methane."

By encouraging proper ventilation, Vayda said growers should have healthier birds that would need less feed and the mortality rate should decline.

He's counting on this, as well as the equipment's favorable impact on the environment, for the company to be a success.

Vayda said a furnace that would heat two houses will cost between $20,000 and $30,000. This compares with about $2,000 for a propane gas heating system in an average-size home.

In its application to the state for financial assistance, Vayda Energy forecast annual sales of $3.6 million by the end of next year. That is based upon installing 126 furnaces.

There are more than 200,000 chicken houses being used by the nation's poultry industry, and 10,000 more are added each year, reflecting the growing popularity of chicken on dinner tables.

Vayda is hesitant to talk about the system's potential. "I don't know whether to say it's good or not," he said. "I don't want to get too many people interested in the idea."

Then he smiled: "Yes, the potential is great. Not only in this area, but throughout the country and around the world."

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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