Rupert Fraser, chief executive of Fibrowatt L.L.C., is on a roll.
The small energy company, whose U.S. headquarters are in Newtown, Bucks County, had its first U.S. plant in Benson, Minn., recently featured in the New York Times. The generator is expected to reach full capacity by the end of the summer. More plants are in the works in other states, including North Carolina, and possibly Pennsylvania down the road. Big-name investors, including Merrill Lynch & Co.'s BlackRock Inc., are taking note, too, as are major chicken producers, including Tyson Foods Inc.
The company, a subsidiary of Homeland Renewable Energy L.L.C., was founded in 2000 by a management team that pioneered the use of poultry litter to produce electricity. Fraser said it picked the Philadelphia area for its U.S. headquarters because Carl Strickler, its president and chief operating officer, is from Abington and wanted a location close to both chicken farms and a major airport. Fraser, 48, a United Kingdom native, recently spoke to PhillyInc's Jonathan Berr about his plans to generate more electricity, one chicken at a time:
PhillyInc: Is it a good time now to be in the alternative-energy business?
Fraser: When I first started coming to the United States in 1998, renewable energy was not the flavor of the month. . . . We focused on getting to know the poultry industry around the country. . . . Then, of course, after 9/11 we found a strong emphasis in many states in developing alternatives to oil. All of those factors have led to a very strong and new appetite for renewable-energy development.
Q: Are there plans to build any of your plants in Pennsylvania?
A: Pennsylvania has been quite a leader in an appetite for renewable energy. It does not have one of the top five poultry producers. . . . It's simply that the folks in Arkansas and North Carolina are calling for us very urgently because they are two to three times bigger than Pennsylvania. We expect to be doing some project-development work in [Pennsylvania] in the next couple of years."
Q: Why chickens? Other types of farm animals, including cows and pigs, produce plenty of waste too.
A: The main issue is the size of chicken waste and the dryness of their waste. . . . It is much dryer than either cattle waste or hog waste. Our technology is based on the combustion of poultry, therefore we can cope with a certain amount of moisture.
Q: Lots of alternative-energy companies are pushing IPOs. Are investors urging you to follow their lead?
A: They always regard the iron as being the hottest. They are always in a hurry. Our existing shareholders respect our desire to do a good job for them. . . . We don't want renewable energy to be another dotcom boom. We would rather make sure that we do it right than in a hurry.
Q: What does the future hold?
A: We anticipate that in 50 years' time that electricity from biomass is going to be cheaper than fossil fuels, but it doesn't happen overnight. Remember in 50 years' time, the American public is going to be eating poultry and may or may not have access to fossil fuels.