Just In Time For Thanksgiving: Biofuel From Turkey Droppings

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From our “You can’t make this sh*t up” department comes this timely news tidbit. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have found a way to make biofuel from dung collected from turkeys, chicken, and other poultry. They say their process could produce enough poop power to replace 10% of the coal used annually to power electricity generating plants. That would amount to a significant reduction in the amount of atmospheric pollutants added to the global environment.

biofuel from turkey wasteIn a report published by the journal Applied Energy, the researchers say, “Environmentally safe disposal of poultry excrement 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.”

In the lab, the researchers evaluated two types of biofuel to determine which makes the more efficient poultry waste solid fuel — biochar or hydrochar. Biochar is made by slowly heating biomass (the poultry poop) at a temperature of 450°C (842°F) in an oxygen-free furnace. Hydrochar is produced by heating wet biomass to a much lower temperature of about 250 °C under pressure using a process called hydrothermal carbonization. HTC mimics the natural formation of coal but only takes a few hours to complete.

“We found that poultry waste processed as hydrochar produced 24 percent higher net energy generation,” say researchers Vivian Mau and Professor Amit Gross. “Poultry waste hydrochar generates heat at high temperatures and combusts in a similar manner to coal, an important factor in replacing it as renewable energy source.” The higher temperatures also significantly reduced the amount of methane and ammonia produced but created more carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions.

“This investigation helped in bridging the gap between hydrochar being considered as a potential energy source toward the development of an alternative renewable fuel,” Gross explains. “Our findings could help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation and agricultural wastes.” Real-world field studies would be needed to confirm the results obtained in the laboratory.

Biofuels derived from excrement are not new. A bus running on biomethane from human waste began operating in the UK in 2014, and biofuel made from algae that grow in sewers has been under scrutiny since 2013. Most biofuels are made from plant waste, but that means the cultivation of species like switchgrass is needed, which takes up a lot of space and needs plenty of water.

Harvesting excrement is more efficient in terms of resources needed to arrive at the end product, so to speak. If someone could figure out a way to make productive use out of the millions upon millions of gallons of waste that accumulate at pig farms and cattle ranches (not to mention sheep, goat, alpaca, and emu operations), there would be enough biofuel available to power the entire world for centuries. No bullsh*t.


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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