NPR reports that a team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Israel are exploring the potential uses of poultry excrement. “Its conversion to renewable energy can offer a solution while concomitantly reducing environmental impact and reliance on fossil fuels,” authors of the study led by Amit Gross, Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology chair, wrote in Applied Energy.
Researchers heated up turkey feces to various temperatures. Cooking wet feces at 250°C (482°F) created the most energy-dense substance, called hydrochar, made of biomass particles and water. It can be burned like coal, and the liquid, rich in carbon and nitrogen, can be used as fertilizer. Come another Thanksgiving in the future, this fuel could even be used to cook a turkey itself, which is exactly what the researchers had in mind.
“I really hope it’s tasty,” Gross told NPR, after stating their intention to try and roast a bird using the hydrochar, which is described as sanitary and safe. Vivian Mau, a PhD candidate at Ben-Gurion’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research and one of the study authors, also noted that burning hydrochar smells like coffee: “It would be interesting to see if the meat roasted on it will also have a coffee flavor.”
In a world that is searching for ways to be more sustainable, the potential benefits of poultry poop-derived biofuel go beyond a culinary experiment. The Ben-Gurion researchers point out that poultry production generates 625-938 million metric tons of poop per year. Converting this output into fuel could “potentially replace 10% of coal in the generation of electricity, thereby significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation and agricultural waste,” the researchers wrote.
And it doesn’t stop at poultry poop. In 2017, a Kenyan company turned human fecal waste in the city of Nakuru into a usable fuel source for cooking and heating. Just this month, Ben-Gurion researchers, including Gross and Mau, also conducted a study to explore how human excrement could be converted into fuel and fertilizer. Excrement can be used in construction too: In October, students in South Africa created the world’s first bricks made from human urine.