Fowl Fuel

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that our nation's farms generate more than 95 million tons of animal waste per year. One big contributor is the chicken industry. Chicken manure contains nitrogen and phosphorus that can pollute drinking water and damage our environment.

To cut down on pollution, some chicken manure is collected and processed into fertilizer or cattle feed. Now, it looks like we've found another use: fuel. “Biodiesel,” they call it at West Virginia University (WVU), where researchers Eric Johnson, Richard Russell, Al Stiller, and others teamed up with Northco Corporation (an equipment builder) and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The Agricultural Waste Biodiesel Team heats and pressurizes a mixture of chicken litter (manure plus bedding material) and water. The resulting tarlike substance has more energy value than chicken manure alone, so some of the energy used in creating it is recovered. The substance has the right properties to blend with diesel, and can be added to it to create up to about 35 percent more fuel without lessening engine performance.

About 3,500 to 5,000 years ago, humans started taming a type of wild chicken in Southeast Asia. Now, there are many varieties of chickens, each with a distinctive comb (reddish flesh) on its head. Some chickens are gorgeous!

But whether raised for meat, eggs, or as a hobby, chickens all produce waste that needn't go to…waste.


  1. In addition to oil, natural gas, wind, water, and solar energy, there are many other kinds of energy resources available. Think of another kind of energy source that we use. The energy source might be an organic resource, such as chicken litter, or it might be an inorganic resource, such as solar energy. Write a short paragraph about this energy resource. Include details about how it used, and what the potential benefits and drawbacks are to using this energy resource.