Turning Chicken Poop Into Power U.S. farmers raise 9 billion chickens a year. That's a lot of chicken manure. An enterprising farmer in Mississippi has developed a way to turn their waste into energy.
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Turning Chicken Poop Into Power

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Turning Chicken Poop Into Power

Turning Chicken Poop Into Power

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Okay, you maybe feeling overwhelmed by the paperwork for your tax returns. Well, many people are overwhelmed by different things, including poultry farmers who face an overwhelming problem with chicken waste. That's the story we have this morning.

One Mississippi chicken farmer has found a way to cope, as Phoebe Judge reports from Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

PHOEBE JUDGE: John Logan is right at home as he stands in one of his big, dimly lit chicken houses.

(Soundbite of chickens)

JUDGE: Logan is surrounded by thousands of fluffy, yellow chicks which hatched about a week ago. These are just some of the 275,000 chickens he raises and sends to Tyson Foods every 38 days.

Mr. JOHN LOGAN (Poultry farmer): Well, we have become their mama, so its important that we duplicate everything that the mother chicken would do.

JUDGE: Logan's family has farmed this land in Prentiss, Mississippi for five generations. He loves what he does. But he began to worry about his water supply. The culprit: chicken poop.

Mr. LOGAN: The phosphorus content got too high, and I said I got to do something. I can't keep putting this on the ground. Now, I have a river right here. What's to happen when that phosphorus overload washes into the river, which then ends up in the Gulf of Mexico?

JUDGE: In addition to farmer, Logan also calls himself an avid conservationist. Five years ago, he turned to the idea of a manure digester, that's something cattle ranchers can use to turn manure into energy. Chicken manure had never been tried alone before, so Logan worked with Mississippi State University to patent the first successful chicken litter digester.

Mr. LOGAN: This is the decayed chicken litter, and that is loaded once a day into a tank over here. And it's down in the ground, and from there, its mixed.

JUDGE: The digester resembles a silo. Each day, four tons of manure placed into it. It's then heated and mixed with bacteria, which produces the methane gas and is converted into energy.

The Environmental Protection Agency has promoted the use of anaerobic manure digesters since 1993. But the EPA's Chris Voell says there aren't many operating today because of a patchwork of rules.

Mr. CHRIS VOELL (Environmental Protection Agency): Mainly issues associated with local state and federal energy policy. However, with those types of fixes, we do feel that there could be - instead of 130 digesters around the country -there could be thousands of digesters.

JUDGE: Also, Congress is considering changing the Federal Clean Water Act, which may alter how poultry operations deal with chicken manure. Bill Satterfield, with industry trade group Delmarva Poultry, says if new rules are implemented it could change how chickens are produced.

Mr. BILL SATTERFIELD (Executive director, Delmarva Poultry Industry): The more options that chicken growers have in handling the manure and litter in a proper and environmental manner, the better off they are, and the better off the industry is.

JUDGE: Back in Prentiss, Mississippi, John Logan's office sits on a hill, overlooking his chicken houses. He's doing more now than just raising chickens. He started a company, Eagle Energy, to sell his digesters. Each one cost half a million dollars, but he says the savings add up.

Mr. LOGAN: When we went online the first time, the previous month, my power bill was like $8,000; and it went to, next month, to about 200 and something, dollars. And then the next month, I got a small check from the power company.

JUDGE: Logan has four digesters operating in Mississippi, and is building two others in Maryland and Delaware. He's also contracting with companies in Italy, Australia and India.

For NPR News, I'm Phoebe Judge in Gulfport, Mississippi.

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