“J. Peterman” Hawking Hog Sewage Power Plant

John O’Hurley, the actor best known for his portrayal of catalog magnate J. Peterman on Seinfeld, talked with Triple Pundit recently about a new cleantech company he’s backing, Energy Inc., which sells power plants that can convert bio-waste into electricity and heat.

The company, which O’Hurley started two years ago with business partner Kim Kirkendall, recently won a contract to build a pyrolytic gasification plant at the High Ridge Farm in North Carolina. The plant will turn manure from thousands of hogs into clean electricity to run the farm and hot air to keep the pigs cozy.

An actor looking for stories to tell

O’Hurley, also known as the host of Family Feud and a winning contestant on Dancing with the Stars, looks for companies “with an interesting story to tell,” a quality that dovetails with his own strengths coming from show-business. “I like to work in my area of expertise: the ability to communicate a story, and access to the media,” he said.

He brushed off concerns about his fame as a comedian undermining the seriousness of his business ventures. He said he’s taken his lumps from the likes of Forbes after becoming a major investor in the then-struggling J. Peterman catalog company – the inspiration for the character he played on Seinfeld.

“I’m not concerned about the comedian connection,” he said. “I’m moving in to the manure business – I’m sure there are plenty of TV critics who think that’s right where I belong.”

From worst polluter to zero emissions

Pyrolytic gasification is a process whereby waste — including sewage, biochemical waste, tires, “everything but nuclear waste,” said O’Hurley — is superheated and turned into a gas which can then turn an electric turbine and provide hot air for heating.

Industrial farms like the High Ridge Farm could be the perfect customer for Energy Inc. Such farms, also known as Concentrated Animal Feed-lot Operations, or CAFOs, produce massive streams of animal waste which are typically funneled into enormous fetid lagoons. Critics say such waste streams contaminate ground water.

Pyrolitic gasification has been in use in the UK and elsewhere for ten years, O’Hurley said, but Energy Inc. is the first company to introduce it to the US on a commercial scale. Industrial farms have been experimenting with other waste-to-energy technologies, like anaerobic digestion.

Energy Inc.’s plants can generate up to 1.4 megawatts of electricity. They cost about $3.5 million for a plant that can convert 12 tons of feedstock a day, but the company offers 100 percent financing. As with other green technologies, the cost is exceeded by savings over the long run.

O’Hurley said Energy Inc. would be coming out with half a dozen more deal announcements in the coming months. They are also in talks to build a factory in Indiana to build the plants, which the company currently contracts with manufacturers overseas to build.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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