Burn Bird Poop Instead of Coal to Save the Planet, Israeli Scientists Propose

Perhaps Donald Trump and alternative fuel buffs should consider retraining coal miners as turkey farmers

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A turkey, with blue face and very long beak wattle.
A turkeyCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Nobody normal thinks coal is a good solution to anything, and now scientists from poultry-obsessed Israel are proposing to replace the carbonized biofuel with bird droppings.

It bears mention that the folks at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, aren’t proposing to attach a flamethrower to the fowls’ cloaca. They suggest that treated excrement from fowls – including Thanksgiving turkeys, chickens and others – be converted to combustible solid biomass.

Burning poultry poo instead of fossil fuel would kill two birds with one stone. First: Coal is ecologically filthy. Second: The growing world population is breeding more and more birds to eat, and the piles of poop have been mounting.

The notion is especially pertinent to Israel: In 2016 the OECD said that Israelis were the fourth-biggest consumers of meat in the world the year before, following Australia, the United States and Argentina. The reason Israel scored so high on the list is chickens: Israelis are the world's biggest consumer of the bird, averaging 57.7 kilos a year in 2015.

How useful is the idea of burning bird detritus? It’s too early to say, but the scientists themselves estimate that some 10 percent of the coal used around the world to generate electricity could be replaced with what they politely call “poultry litter.”

Turkeys standing in a pen at the DiPaola Turkey farm in Hamilton, New Jersey, United States. Two Israeli scientists believe poultry poop could be an alternative to coal.Credit: Bloomberg

A key point is that poultry poop, when treated in a specific way – not a champagne dinner but “hydrocharring” – has similar combustion characteristics to sub-bituminous coal, say the scientists in their seminal paper “Energy conversion and gas emissions from production and combustion of poultry-litter-derived hydrochar and biochar,” published in ScienceDirect.

To be specific, student researcher Vivian Mau and Prof. Amit Gross – chair of the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology at BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute – evaluated two types of biofuel produced from poultry farms, comparing the combustion qualities and gas emissions of biochar and hydrochar.

Biochar is made by slowly heating the dry biomass at 450 degrees Celsius (about 840 degrees Fahrenheit) in an oxygen-free furnace. Hydrochar is made by heating the wet biomass to just 250 degrees Celsius. The result – hold onto your hat feathers – is that hydrochar made of poultry poop is most like coal. Ta da!

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