Phosphorus-loading rivers and lakes is the down side to using poultry litter as a cheap form of fertilizer.

But nitrogen in chicken manure means it releases nitrogen oxide when burned to make electricity.

Current research is being conducted to determine whether there is a more “green” option for disposing of poultry litter by converting the non-edible biomass into fuel through fermentation.

The hitches that a poultry litter power plant has experienced in Minnesota are being used by Texas A&M professors to advance their fermentation alternative.

The 55-megawatt power plant at Benson, MN that burns up to 500,000 tons of poultry litter annually was fined in December by the state Pollution Control Agency for air quality violations. 

In a settlement with the State of Minnesota, Pennsylvania-based Fibrowatt, owner of the Benson plant, agreed to pay a $65,000 fine and invest $80,000 in additional emissions monitoring equipment.

Minnesota claimed the Benson poultry litter plant had released excess nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

Terrabon, the company associated with Texas A&M professors, last year combined poultry litter with other biomass materials to create gasoline.  It has plans for a 1.3 million gallon plant for producing “green” gasoline at a cost of $1.75 to $2.00 per gallon.

Fibrowatt is pushing ahead with its own plans for as many as three poultry-litter power plants in North Carolina.  It has hired Granite Falls, MN-based Fagen Inc. for the engineering, procurement, and construction of the first biomass-fueled power project in North Carolina’s history.

The first North Carolina plant will produce 55 megawatts of renewable electricity, enough power to annually supply over 40,000 homes.  In addition to poultry litter, the plant will have the design flexibility to blend wood and other biomass with the poultry litter.

Fibrominn says the fine it paid in Minnesota had to do with start-up, commissioning, and shakedown of the new plant and the agreement shows it corrected the past deficiencies to the satisfaction of a stringent air pollution control agency.  It also points to the fact that it has not had a reportable odor or accident complaints in Minnesota and enjoys a strong working relationship with the community.

Poultry litter is the material used as bedding upon which chickens are raised, usually consisting of wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, shredded sugar cane, straw and other dry absorbent, low-cost organics.  It collects chicken manure.

After chickens are raised, poultry litter is often spread on land as fertilizer, where runoff can carry it into the watershed.