Fowl fuel

Turkey poop a great coal alternative, Israeli study finds

As Thanksgiving approaches, study shows turkeys may be more useful in the coop than on the plate

Illustrative photo of turkeys (bazilfoto; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative photo of turkeys (bazilfoto; iStock by Getty Images)

If you’re a turkey, this is a grim time, with Thanksgiving around the corner. There may be some room for hope, though, as a new study show turkeys may be more  useful alive, eating — and excreting.

A new Israeli study shows that turkey excrement may be a major untapped resource in use as a combustible biomass fuel. The study, authored at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said that this waste fuel could one day replace up to 10 percent of coal used in generating electricity, which would be a positive boon to the environment, not to mention to turkeys.

“Environmentally safe disposal of poultry excrement has become a significant problem,” said the researchers in a statement. “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.”

Researchers were intent on killing two birds with one stone: finding a method to treat turkey excrement for combustion that worked efficiently and, as a result, helping the environment by reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The waste was treated using two formulas for the creation of combustible biomass fuels. The first, hydrochar, involves heating the wet excrement to temperatures of up to 250°C under pressure, a process known as hydrothermal carbonization (HTC). The second is called biochar, and in it the biomass is slow heated at a temperature of 450°C (842°F) in an oxygen-free furnace.

“We found that poultry waste processed as hydrochar produced 24 percent higher net energy generation,” said Prof. Amit Gross, chair of the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology at BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute, in a statement. “Poultry waste hydrochar generates heat at high temperatures and combusts in a similar manner to coal, an important factor in replacing it as a renewable energy source.”

The study also showed a significant reduction in emissions of methane (CH₄) and ammonia (NH₃) and an increase of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide as a result of the HTC process being conducted at higher temperatures.

“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 said. “Our findings could help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation and agricultural wastes.”

The study, published in Elsevier’s Applied Energy, was made possible through funding from the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Rosenzweig-Coopersmith Foundation, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources, the Rieger Foundation and the Zuckerberg Scholarship Fund at BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

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