Federal ethanol mandates for oil companies and the run-up in world oil prices have combined to create a frenzy of expansion in ethanol production in the USA.

Currently, ethanol produced for fuel in the U.S. is made with corn as the feedstock, and the increased demand has driven up corn prices. But ethanol production may have even more impacts on poultry producers than just the impact of high corn prices.

Ethanol plants use a lot of energy to process the corn and run the distillation equipment. With the run-up in natural gas prices, ethanol producers are looking for cheaper fuel alternatives to power their plants. Many ethanol plants under construction or on the drawing board are expecting to use coal as their primary fuel source, but at least one proposed plant would like to burn poultry litter to fuel its operations.

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Dr. J.P. Blake, poultry science professor, Auburn University, reported at the National Poultry Waster Management Symposium that the feasibility of putting an ethanol plant in North Alabama which burns poultry litter as its primary fuel is being studied. Just as poultry litter is a by-product of raising broilers, ash is a by-product of burning litter. Ash from burning litter can be used as a feed stock for making fertilizer. However, Blake has researched a more highly valued use for poultry litter ash.

Blake said that phosphorous is the second most expensive ingredient in a broiler’s diet, after protein, and that poultry litter ash “may offer exceptional advantage as a source of phosphorous.” Iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium are micro minerals that are found in poultry litter ash, in addition to the phosphorous. Blake conducted experiments where poultry litter ash was substituted for dicalcium phosphate, a mineral compound that is normally used to provide both calcium and phosphorous to the birds. Calcium and phosphorous are the mineral building block of bones.

Results of Blake’s studies showed that poultry litter ash may have a future as a low-cost mineral supplement in broiler feeds. If poultry litter can really be used economically as a fuel to fire ethanol plants, then something good may come out of ethanol production for poultry growers after all.