GRAND ISLAND, NEB. – No question, JBS-Swift is full of manure. Any major meat packer has to be. So the company is turning it into energy.

Sometime in April, the company will open its first-ever biogas generation facility next door to its Grand Island, Neb., beef packing plant, where 6,000 cattle are slaughtered each day. The operation, which will be owned and managed by Microgy, Inc., a subsidiary of Swift partner Environmental Power, is expected to generate 235,000 MMBtu of power per year, roughly the equivalent of 1.7 million gallons of oil, or about 25 percent of the Grand Island plant’s annual natural gas intake. Benham Cos. LLC, based in St. Louis, Mo., is the biogas operation’s designer and builder.

David Colwell, who heads JBS-Swift’s U.S. beef operations, told that the Grand Island facility could be the first of a series of biogas generators for the company. "I think we’ll evaluate this one and see how it goes. We’ve certainly had discussions about it for our other locations, but nothing’s been decided yet," he said.

Manure will be processed in two 1.2-million-gallon digesters and converted to methane, which will then be used to fuel energy production after the gas is processed in a purifier. "We will be using the energy to run our boilers," said Colwell, who added that it’s possible the biogas operation could ultimately generate enough power to sell excess energy to the Grand Island community, though the immediate focus is on the energy needs of the packing plant. The digested manure "comes out as compostable material," said Colwell, "and it can be land-applied directly or can be composted further." Reports put the price of the biogas facility at $7 million.

The operation joins a handful of biogas and biofuel operations already established in the meat industry by Tyson Foods, among a small group of other processors.