WVU researchers answer world's energy, animal waste concerns with fowl mixture

| 12/27/2001

Researchers at West Virginia University have concocted a "fowl" substance they believe will help fuel the world's energy needs and relieve a growing problem with agricultural waste. The mixture of diesel fuel and pressure-treated chicken litter creates up to 35 percent more fuel without diminishing its fuel properties, said Al Stiller, a chemical engineering professor in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

"We have an opportunity to decrease our dependence on foreign fossil fuels and rid our environment of potential hazards in the form of animal waste," Dr. Stiller said.

To produce the fuel, the researchers first mix chicken manure and water at a high temperature and high pressure to convert the waste to a liquid, Stiller said. They then add the agricultural wastewater mixture to diesel fuel.

The new mixture of treated chicken manure and diesel has the same heat value as diesel fuel alone, and the animal waste has the proper viscosity and vapor pressure to blend with the gas, he added.

Recently the scientists tested 1.5 gallons of their new fuel in an engine at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown. They started running the engine on standard diesel fuel, then substituted their fuel.

"To everyone's surprise, there was no significant difference in performance," Stiller said. "This is like hitting a home run your first time at the plate."

But how does the diesel fuel with manure additive smell? "Not good, but neither does standard fuel," Stiller said. "It doesn't smell like manure. It smells like wet cigarette tobacco."

The fuel actually could become a "green" energy source because it would reduce the rate at which greenhouse gases are released into the air, he added. Bacteria feed off manure and create carbon dioxide - a greenhouse gas. The more manure used for fuel means less for bacteria to convert into carbon dioxide. Eric Johnson, one of Stiller's research partners, said the fuel could be used in trucks, buses, home heating and power plants.

The researchers' next step is to convert the chicken manure into fuel without having to transport it from the farm. They are working with Louis Hamrick of Northco Corp. of Morgantown to design and build the necessary equipment to install on a local farm.

Stiller has been working on the project for several years. The research evolved from a project to liquefy coal using various waste products, including animal manure. He eventually eliminated coal from the project.

While the fuel, if perfected, would help alleviate energy concerns, Stiller predicts the product could have profound implications on the agricultural industry. Although the researchers have experimented with chicken manure so far, other animal waste would yield the same results.

"I think agricultural sciences will change," he said. "Instead of animal manure being a waste to be disposed of, it will be a source of fuel. These changes will be global because every society produces the same kind of material."