At full capacity, the generators at the Culver Duck digester produce enough energy to run the entire plant, as well as 100 to 120 homes, for a day.
At full capacity, the generators at the Culver Duck digester produce enough energy to run the entire plant, as well as 100 to 120 homes, for a day.

MIDDLEBURY, Ind. — Rather than letting duck parts that won’t go to the dinner table go to waste, Culver Duck is using it to create energy.

The company processes about 5 million White Pekin ducks per year. It sends the extra blood and waste to an anaerobic digester in order to harvest methane gas and convert it to energy. By recycling the waste, Culver Duck is able to save money and resources.

“It all started about three years ago, when we installed a new wetland to treat our wastewater,” said Don Young, renewable energy manager at Culver Duck. “When they built that, they had in mind that in the future we’d build a digester. The wetlands and our digester go together, and between the two it is about a $6 million project.”

Young explained that the waste from the plant is piped to a reception pit. There, it is mixed with corn byproduct and other byproducts that are given to Culver Duck. Around 800 gallons per hour are pumped from the reception site to the digester.

“Once everything is inside the digester, I have three big motors that constantly stir it up,” Young said. “All the stuff being stirred together inside the tank creates methane gas inside. We capture the gas, and the gas gets pumped over to the generators.

“With the energy, we sell it right to the power company, turn around and buy it back. It saves money and uses resources.”

After going through the digester, the waste is separated into liquids and solids. The liquids are recycled on the facility’s wetlands.

The wastewater filters through the wetlands and goes to a pond. That water is used to irrigate crops on 500 acres that Culver Duck owns and leases to farmers.

The solids are similar to a compost and are used as soil enhancement.

The technology used for the digester is topnotch, and one of only a few of its type in Indiana. As a safety feature, the system can automatically send notifications to the plant manager if something isn’t right.

“Everything is computerized. Everything is touch screen,” said Young, who runs the waste management facility by himself, with help from others as needed. “I can start it, stop it and change settings from home.”

Culver Duck focuses on sustainability, but also is conscious about its impact on the environment.

“Nothing really leaves the facility,” Young said. “Our water is all recycled, and we keep all our waste from the plant here, too, now.

“Once a duck comes here, we freeze it. We sell the feathers. There’s little garbage, but we recycle our metal, our cardboard, stuff like that.”

The ducks are sold to restaurants, commonly in New York City, Chicago and Boston. While duck does not have demand as high as chicken, beef, turkey or pork, there is a niche market it for it both in America and other countries.

Indiana leads the way in duck production.

“There’s only five or six duck facilities in the United States,” Young said. “Northern Indiana is No. 1 in the United States in duck production.”

He also noted that many of the ducks at the facility were raised by members of the nearby Amish community.

Culver Duck is a family-owned business that moved from Rhode Island to Indiana in 1960. The company has grown substantially and still is growing today.