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Chicken poo may be the fuel of the future
December 17 2001 at 11:23AM
Morgantown, West Virginia - Al Stiller admits his discovery is at the outer limits of what some already consider a fringe science. He can't even fully explain why it works.
But chicken manure, he insists, makes good fuel.
Liquefied, cooked and sterilised by heat and intense pressure, it can be blended with diesel to power an engine with no significant difference in performance.
And that, says the West Virginia University chemical engineering professor, has global implications: If it were to catch on, a blend that's 65 percent diesel and 35 percent liquid waste would reduce the America's dependence on foreign oil and solve a nagging environmental problem for the poultry industry.
'I don't know how it does it' "I don't know how it does it," Stiller says. "It just does."
Chicken farmers in West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and other states have been blamed for fouling streams and rivers with runoff that is high in nitrogen from manure plowed into the ground as fertiliser.
Many believe the runoff damages fish and plant life, leading to outbreaks of such toxic microbes as Pfisteria piscicida. Yet, as food and meat production increase, so too will the need for disposal.
Stiller and two other WVU scientists say their work has the potential for widespread use.
The field of biofuels has not received its due, they say, and the little work that is being done focuses mostly on corn and soybeans, both of which have established lobbies to seek funding.
The poultry waste-to-fuel idea was born in 1996, while Stiller was working on a coal liquefaction project. He needed sources of hydrogen to break the coal down, and he began using old tyres.
He quickly discovered that the supply of 250 million tyres per year was insufficient. Stiller switched to animal manure, which showed such potential that he cut coal out of the project.
Even in the small, rural state of West Virginia, poultry is a $200-million-a-year industry with about 350 farms producing 91,3 million broilers last year.
"The average guy in West Virginia has about 500 tons (455 metric tons) of litter to dispose of every year," says Rich Russell, Stiller's research partner. "Converting that to fuel would be worth almost a quarter-million dollars."
Farmers could have self-contained units to dispose of waste, produce fuel and then use that fuel to help power diesel generators or farm equipment at a lower cost.
Horse and cow manure may also work in a fuel blend, Stiller says, but chicken farms have a political problem in need of a solution, so that's where he has focused.
At first, the work was done with no university funding and no student assistants. The West Virginia Development Office has since kicked in funds and the scientists have found a commercial partner in Northco Corporation, a Morgantown company that manufactures mining equipment.
Stiller still needs to study the practical economics for a farm. He also wants to investigate the potential of the residue that's left behind when the manure is liquefied. - Sapa-AP
-- Anonymous, December 17, 2001