Poultry farms have traditionally had to contend with the significant waste problem posed by the production of chicken manure, but they may now be able to convert their unwanted by-product into fuel, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Many poultry farmers reuse their manure as fertilizer that they either use themselves or sell to others. But the manure has been criticized for being high in phosphates, a substance which can lead to algae blooms that deprive waterways of oxygen for other types of wildlife. Environmentalists have successfully lobbied 16 states into enacting loss that prohibit the use of high-phosphate soaps and detergents for just this reason.
Enter Homeland Renewable Energy, a Pennsylvania-based company, and its subsidiary, Fibrowatt, which uses the manure to fuel electricity generation. In 2007, the company built the country’s first chicken manure-powered generation plant in Minnesota, where it burns half a million tons of turkey litter power a 55 MW plant every year, according to the Journal.
However, critics contend that poultry manure isn’t any better as a fuel than it is as a fertilizer. Manure-powered plants release unsafe levels of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and other particulates, they say. The environmental agency for Minnesota fined the company $65,000 for permit violations and ordered the company to install a better sulfur dioxide monitor. The company argues that emissions can be kept within legal limits using pollution controls and best practices, and said its data from the previous year will demonstrate that it has kept emissions well within guidelines, according to the Journal.
If the company is able to sign agreements with poultry farmers and obtain the necessary clearances from state regulators to build additional plants, the largest poultry producing states would have plenty of fuel to burn. Georgia alone produces 2.6 million tons of manure every year. Arkansas produces 2.1 million tons and Alabama produces 2 million tons.
Fibrowatt says it can produce electricity at a cost of between nine to 13 cents, when factoring in government subsidies. Poultry manure may also be attractive to utilities that are facing requirements to begin producing minimum levels of electricity from alternative fuels, the paper reported.
The technology follows in the footsteps of other companies using cow manure to generate electricity. HP’s research arm, HP Labs, has designed a system that combines cow manure with the heat output of data centers to create an environmentally sustainable operation. The research paper shows how a farm with 10,000 dairy cows can meet the power requirements of a medium-sized, 1-megawatt (MW) data center with enough power leftover to support other electrical requirements on the farm. Meanwhile, manure from 250,000 cows at a dairy farm in northeast China will fuel the world’s largest cow manure-fed biogas power project, planned to open in September.