Iowa State University researchers are exploring the feasibility of growing algae in poultry houses using ammonia produced from the exhaust air. The algae, in turn, could be used to create products including biofuel, biojet fuel, biomaterials, biochemicals and animal feed, said the researchers.

“We want to improve the environmental stewardship of the poultry operation,” said Honwei Xin, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. “It would be a perfect match if we could remove ammonia from the exhaust air in poultry houses and use it to grow algae.”

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The tests have shown that up to 96 percent of the ammonia is removed from the air exhaust using the bioreactor they've created. Juhyon Kang, graduate research assistant in food science and human nutrition, is currently working on scaling up the algal bioreactor to commercial scale while other team members study optimal algae growth conditions, analyze algae to produce feed and explore optimum amounts of ammonia concentration for the algae to grow.

“Algae can serve as a feedstock for biorenewable energy or [an additive] for animal feed," said Xin. "It’s a win-win situation; you kill two birds with one stone.”