Call it a win-win: Curbing pollution with chicken manure

Scientists have found a type of micro-algae that gobbles up greenhouse 
gas emissions — and it has a taste for nutrient-rich chicken manure, too

Poultry manure and that annoying green slime which grows in our lakes each summer could hold the key to helping the province’s oilsands mining companies and coal-fired power plants clean up their act, while producing a valuable commodity in the process.

Researchers have discovered a strain of naturally occurring micro-algae that can scrub 100 per cent of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and power plants before they enter the atmosphere.

And micro-algae grows by leaps and bounds when fed with poultry manure as an organic fertilizer.

“Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — it contains the main nutrients that algae need,” said Bob Mroz, president and CEO of HY-TEK Bio.

The Maryland-based biotech company is developing and marketing patented technology using micro-algae for mitigation of greenhouse gases. Commercial application of the technology is definitely a new potential income stream for poultry farmers, said Mroz. Should the company establish a facility in Alberta, it would pay for the raw poultry manure needed in their process, he added.

University of Maryland scientists have discovered a way to liquefy raw poultry manure so that it is clear enough to allow micro-algae to grow while fertilizing the GHG scrubbers.

University of Maryland scientists have discovered a way to liquefy raw poultry manure so that it is clear enough to allow micro-algae to grow while fertilizing the GHG scrubbers.
photo: Supplied

Also, by establishing one of its manure conversion plants on a poultry farm — which liquefies and processes the raw manure so that it is nutrient ready for feeding micro-algae — farmers could have access to a new source of organic fertilizer, he said. Its technology can even remove phosphorus from the nutrient liquid stream, if that is an issue in the area where the farm is located, he said.

HY-TEK Bio’s technology has caught the eye of the provincial government, which recently awarded it a $500,000 grant. The grant is part of a three-stage, $35-million international Grand Challenge: Innovative Carbon Uses competition offered by the province’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation. The corporation collects a levy from large greenhouse gas emitters and uses the money to fund promising technology aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

HY-TEK Bio will definitely be applying for more funding during the second phase of the CCEMC Grand Challenge, which opens in September, said Mroz.

How it works

Micro-algae are photosynthetic, plant-like organisms that need light, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus. They can feed on compounds such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulphur dioxide as well as volatile organic compounds commonly emitted from such facilities as heavy oil production plants and coal-fired power plants. They release oxygen in the process and grow into a plant commodity with considerable commercial potential.

University of Maryland scientists have isolated a strain of naturally occurring micro-algae that can exist in industrial flue gases and feed on GHGs. Poultry manure has been discovered as an excellent source of micro-algae food.

University of Maryland scientists have isolated a strain of naturally occurring micro-algae that can exist in industrial flue gases and feed on GHGs. Poultry manure has been discovered as an excellent source of micro-algae food.
photo: Supplied

The challenge for HY-TEK Bio was to find an inexpensive source of nutrients to fertilize the micro-algae to accelerate its growth so it can perform as advertised in a greenhouse gas mitigation application. And since there are many poultry farms in Maryland, the company turned to that potential source.

What got company officials interested in using poultry manure as algae food was a chance encounter with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Mroz. The bay suffers from considerable algae growth, and the foundation was concerned that poultry manure from egg and poultry producers was finding its way into the bay.

HY-TEK Bio then approached researchers at the University of Maryland — who have been working with micro-algae extensively for the past five years — to investigate poultry manure’s potential as a cheap nutrient source. The company already has a working demonstration facility with four bioreactors consuming flue gas emissions from a three-megawatt, biogas-fuelled power plant attached to a City of Baltimore waste water treatment plant.

Alberta bound?

HY-TEK Bio is looking for commercial partners to help demonstrate its technology in Alberta, and is currently in talks with the City of Calgary about the possibility of installing its technology as part of the municipal waste treatment system.

Using poultry manure as fertilizer for micro-algae would direct that manure into a new, non-polluting direction, said Feng Chen, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science

The university’s research, with support from HY-TEK Bio, has devised a method to liquefy raw poultry manure and create an end product that is clear enough so that it does not impede the growth of the micro-algae, which Mroz says is a significant recent breakthrough.

University of Maryland researchers say that they are “quite encouraged” by the results they have witnessed so far in using poultry manure nutrients to encourage micro-algae growth.

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