A new egg-laying barn currently under construction at the Brant Colony in Vulcan County will be the first such ‘net-zero’ facility in the province.
“The thought was that if we had a barn designed from scratch and we put all these different things in it, we could get to the point where the energy inputs and outputs were basically balanced,” said David Webb, marketing and communications manager for the Egg Farmers of Alberta.
Those ‘things’ include solar panels and a host of energy-saving technologies.
Not surprisingly, it starts with lots of insulation in the walls of the exterior structure, which was completed last month, and also features a heat recovery ventilation unit imported from the Netherlands. This will greatly reduce the amount of natural gas used to heat the barn and with solar panels producing electricity (to be used in the barn and elsewhere on the colony), its energy consumption and output will be roughly the same.
But the key piece of technology is the heat exchanger.
“A lot of the cost incurred by livestock producers is for their winter ventilation,” said Kelly Lund, a project engineer with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“In order to properly ventilate the interior of a livestock building to prevent excessive moisture buildup and the buildup of regular noxious gases like carbon dioxide and ammonia, you need to ventilate even in winter.”
Using the vented warm air to heat the incoming winter air is commonly used in commercial and residential buildings, but is still rare in contained livestock barns. The Dutch unit, one of the few in Canada, uses a specially design ‘plate’ (which can be made of metal or plastic) that draws heat from the outgoing warm air and transfers it to the incoming cold air. However, the units are quite expensive and there are questions about how well they work in cold weather climates, so the Egg Farmers of Alberta and Alberta Agriculture will be monitoring the project closely.
In fact, the entire project is meant to be a learning experience.
“Our primary objective is to get information out to the entire producer base,” said Jenna Griffin, industry development officer with the Egg Farmers of Alberta. “We’re really generating information about the overall design and what it takes to get to net zero, but also about new technologies and management of the facility.”
The association will be blogging about the project, and the barn will feature a special viewing area and web cameras so it can host tours without compromising biosecurity. Brant Colony was selected, in part, because it met the Egg Farmers’ criteria of being within a two-hour drive of either Calgary or Edmonton and was willing to install cameras, host visitors, and share its energy data publicly.
“You can’t make (net-zero) claims if you don’t know what your energy use is,” said Lund. “For us, we need to find out the benchmark of a modern facility using these technologies. They now have all the equipment in place so that if they want to do marketing because they’re net zero, they’ll have all the technical data to make these claims.”
The new barn is actually two facilities — a laying barn for 13,000 brown birds, and a pullet barn which will house 15,000 brown birds (or 17,000 white birds) in a free-run aviary structure.
Green building and animal housing experts were consulted as part of the design process and once the facility goes into operation in March, all of its energy use will be monitored and the data shared with the entire egg industry.
“In addition to what we’re going to learn about the payback period for these technologies, I think we’re going to learn a lot about efficiencies in other areas,” said Griffin.