Waste from chicken farming could provide an unlikely source of biodiesel now that an environmentally friendly process to produce good-quality fuel from it has proved successful.
Chicken-feather meal is a by-product of large-scale poultry production. It often includes blood and offal, and contains about 11 per cent fat.
Unlike conventional biofuel sources such as sugar cane or corn, it is not in demand for human food but it is used as animal feed because of its high protein content and fertiliser for its high nitrogen content.
Researchers boiled the feather meal to extract the fat and then processed the fat into biodiesel using potassium hydroxide as a catalyst. The process produces 7–11 per cent biodiesel of good quality, comparable to biodiesels from soybean and palm oil.
Susanta Mohapatra, co-author of the study and a researcher at the University of Nevada in Reno, United States, told SciDev.Net: "This process is very economical and does not use expensive or toxic chemicals. It will benefit both developed and developing countries."
Mohapatra says that in countries where there are large poultry farms, implementation of the process is feasible within a year or two.
"To implement this technology in developing countries [where there are few large poultry farms] you may need an additional step to collect the poultry waste. If this can be done by a company and/or by government regulations, this technology will have a huge immediate impact on their economy."
The researchers are developing a production process that could reduce the price of the feather-meal biodiesel still further, Mohapatra added. He estimates that the manufacturing cost should be around US$0.26 per litre (US$1 per gallon ) for an average-capacity biodiesel plant, making it cheaper than soy biodiesel, for example, which costs US$1.85–2.11 per litre (US$7–8 per gallon).
The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry last month (22 July).
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57, 6163 (2009)