Innovator proves that where there’s chicken muck there’s money

Innovation awards finalist: In essence, the BHSL invention is a combined heat and power (CHP) system which generates heat and electricity for use on poultry farms using poultry manure as fuel

BHSL co-founder Jack O’Connor: Limerick County Council told him  it was no longer permitted to spread chicken manure as fertiliser

BHSL co-founder Jack O’Connor: Limerick County Council told him it was no longer permitted to spread chicken manure as fertiliser

 

Adversity became the mother of innovation for Limerick-based BHSL, which has developed a unique, patent-protected system to convert poultry manure into a fuel for on-farm energy generation. The system is transforming the economics of poultry production by turning the costly business of dealing with waste manure into a fuel source, thereby increasing profitability through reduced energy bills.

The company was born out of a problem which had arisen for the family chicken farm, according to co-founder and managing director Declan O’Connor.

“My brother Jack was running the farm, and Limerick County Council told him that it was no longer permitted to spread chicken manure as fertiliser,” he recalls. “That meant a big financial hit for the farm, but Jack’s innovative mind came into play and he came up with the idea of using the manure as an energy source.

“The idea was to use the manure to create heat for the next cycle of chicks, and to turn it into an economic benefit instead of a disposal cost.”

In essence, the BHSL invention is a combined heat and power (CHP) system which generates heat and electricity for use on poultry farms using poultry manure as fuel.

Not only does this reduce on-farm energy costs but downstream disposal costs are eliminated as the ash produced by the system can be used as a phosphorus and potassium-rich fertiliser.

Prototype

Having founded the company in 2005, the brothers had a prototype in operation by 2009, and interest from major UK poultry producers quickly followed.

“In 2010, the largest independent farm in the UK installed a BHSL system and the following year the second biggest UK producer bought one,” says O’Connor. “We thought we were doing very well but we got stopped by the absence of regulation. The Irish authorities had said the system was okay to use but the UK said no because there were no EU regulations in place.”

That setback might have proved fatal to other firms, but the O’Connor brothers refused to take no for an answer. They recruited top legal expertise and took their case to the EU. Following a long process, the European Commission eventually approved the system in 2014.

“There were no regulations and no data to go on,” says O’Connor. “The EU Commission used our data to write the rules. As a result, our technology became the standard for recovering energy from poultry litter.”

Having received EU approval the next step was to capitalise on that.

“We knew we needed more money to develop the system and we needed to get some more experience on board as well,” says O’Connor. “We asked Denis Brosnan to come out of retirement to chair the board. Thankfully he agreed.”

Strength to strength

The board was further strengthened with the addition of former ESB chief executive Pádraig McManus, retired Supreme Court judge Fidelma Macken, and corporate financier David Hickey.

The firm has gone from strength to strength since, securing a €7 million fundraising round earlier this year and growing sales rapidly.

“Farms using our system are getting payback on a €1.8 million to €2 million investment within five years”, he says. “We did €15 million in sales last year and are targeting €45 million for the next financial year.”

The company is also expanding into new areas, and recently announced the acquisition of Hydro International, a leading Irish waste-water and effluent treatment company.

The deal is the first step in BHSL’s strategy to expand the range of applications of its fluidised bed combustion (FBC) technology, and serve the municipal and industrial sectors in extracting value from waste products.

“We are in a great place at the moment, and are the only one in the world doing this on farms,” says O’Connor. “But we still have to move quick to build on this. We will combine organic growth with acquisitions and extend into new areas.”

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