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. Think about the kinds of energy resources you learned about in Lesson 2. What kind of energy resource is chicken litter?
    [anno: Chicken litter is a biomass.]
  2. What are two chemicals contained in chicken manure?
    [anno: Chicken manure contains phosphate and nitrogen.]
  3. When chicken litter and water are processed, what is the consistency of the substance they produce?
    [anno: The substance has a tarlike quality.]
  4. In Lesson 2, you learned that ethanol is sometimes mixed with gasoline. In this article, you learned that chicken litter and water are treated to create a substance that is mixed with diesel. Why do you think these substances are blended with gasoline instead of used alone?
    [anno: Answers may vary but could include that the substances are not combustive enough or that they are the wrong consistency to work in gasoline engines.]