A pilot project to convert chicken manure into electricity is the focus of $1 million in grants given to the Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development Council.

The project will be based on an 11-house broiler operation in Melfa, Va., and also explores the potential to use the phosphorus-rich byproduct of the process as a fertilizer source. "The overall idea is, you've got this source of chicken litter — what could it be used for?" said P.G. Ross, chairman of the RC&D Council. "One idea was to combust it and use it to generate electricity."

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Funding for the project includes a $421,650 Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Another $210,000 will come from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, along with $301,000 in equipment and other contributions from Farm Pilot Project Coordination Inc., a Tampa, Fla.-based non-profit that oversees administration of projects to show the economic viability of technologies that reduce nutrients in manure from commercial animal farming operations.

Construction is scheduled to begin in spring of 2012, and data will be collected throughout the three-year project.