Poultry poop could be a source of renewable energy

By Simona Shemer

The holiday might have passed, but how’s this for some Thanksgiving dinner conversation?

A new study by researchers from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) says treated excrement from poultry, including chickens and turkeys, can produce an alternative energy source when converted into combustible solid biomass fuel.

Though biomass accounts for 73 percent of renewable energy production around the world, crops that are grown to be turned into this kind of fuel can harm land, water, and fertilizer, the researchers explained in a statement.

“Environmentally safe disposal of poultry excrements has become a significant problem. Converting poultry waste to solid fuel, a less resource-intensive, renewable energy source is an environmentally superior alternative that also reduces reliance on fossil fuels,” they said.

SEE ALSO: Not Chickening Out: Israel’s Novatrans Could Save 7 Billion Male Chicks From Unnecessary Slaughter

In the study, posted online earlier this month in Elsevier’s Applied Energy journal, researchers from BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research evaluated two biofuels – biochar and hydrochar – to determine which is the more efficient poultry waste solid fuel. They compared the production, combustion, and gas emissions of biochar, which is produced by slow heating of biomass at a temperature of 450°C (842°F) in an oxygen-free furnace with hydrochar. Hydrochar is produced by heating wet biomass to a lower temperature of up to 250 °C (482°F) using a process called hydrothermal carbonization (HTC.) This mimics the way coal is formed in a shorter time frame.

greenhouse gas

An Israeli study says biomass fuel created from poultry poop can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural wastes. 

The results were clear, according to student researcher Vivian Mau, under the supervision of Professor Amit Gross, chair of the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology at Zuckerberg Institute. “We found that poultry waste processed as hydrochar produced 24 percent higher net energy generation,” she said in a statement. “Poultry waste hydorchar generates heat at high temperatures and combusts in a similar manner to coal, an important factor in replacing it as a renewable energy source.”

For the first time, researchers showed that higher HTC production temperatures resulted in a significant reduction in emissions of methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3), with an increase of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

“This investigation helped in bridging the gap between hydrochar being considered as a potential energy source toward the development of an alternative renewable fuel,” Prof. Gross explains, “Our findings could help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation and agricultural wastes. Field-scale experiments with HTC reactor should be conducted to confirm the assessments from this laboratory-scale study.”

SEE ALSO: Vegetarian Meat Eaters: Israeli Startup SuperMeat Grows Chicken Meat in a Lab

The US Department of Agriculture reports that almost a quarter of a million turkeys were produced in the United States in 2016. Imagine all the manure that would contribute to the world.

Now that will be something to chew on next Thanksgiving.