In the land of KFC, chicken droppings produce electricity

Posted on 23 July 2019.

Thanks to Veolia, a biomass plant in the United States is being powered by chicken droppings. A 100% circular idea that makes it possible to fight river pollution and at the same time recover waste.

“5 million metric tons of poultry production waste containing large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus”

With over 513.3 million chickens raised annually, in 2017 North Carolina topped the leader board as the largest poultry and egg producer in the US. And that equals intensive production - 5 million metric tons of litter containing droppings, which release large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Used as fertilizer by local farmers, this waste is not without its consequences on the environment: spreading these poultry droppings in excessive quantities pollutes rivers, lakes and underground water reserves.
"When poultry farms were still scarce, all the litter could be used as fertilizer. But there are so many poultry units now that there isn’t enough farmland to absorb all the droppings," says Mathew Ware, Veolia Vice President of Energy Operations for North America.
Back in 2007, North Carolina Utilities Commission decided to fight water pollution in the region by developing green energy production. It demanded that a portion of the energy sold should come from poultry and hog waste. The government agency is even targeting the production of 900 000 MWh of electricity from this waste by 2020. 
As a consequence a number of facilities using poultry droppings to produce electricity have been set up. Among them was the former Lumberton coal-powered plant in 2016 - Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) converted it into a biomass unit that uses poultry waste along with other biomass.

Two new plants in the pipeline

The process for turning this organic waste into energy starts by fermented the material using micro-organisms which turns it into biogas. The biogas is mostly methane, which is then used to power a turbine boiler that produces electricity and sometimes heat. The residue is used as fertilizer.
Veolia has been managing and running the Lumberton site on behalf of GRP since May 2017. Before then the plant processed only about 10% poultry waste - the rest of the energy came from wood chippings. Lumberton now uses more than 30% poultry waste. Annually, the plant processes 285,000 metric tons of litter and produces 25 MW of energy per hour.
"We worked flat out to optimize the plant’s efficiency," says Mathew Ware, adding, "The owners are considering replacing the boilers, which would mean we could achieve 100% poultry waste recovered."
In the United States, projects to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy are on the increase. Of these, biomass has a fundamental role to play. So that’s why Veolia is continuing its collaboration with GRP and will build two new biomass plants in northern Georgia.