Increasing worldwide demand for energy coupled with large oil reserves residing in some of the most politically unstable parts of the globe, have bumped oil prices to over $70 a barrel again this summer. The effect of high oil prices has rippled throughout the world's economy and has impacted every aspect of poultry production, processing and distribution. The era of cheap energy is likely over, for good.

Higher energy prices have changed the relative economics of some energy saving devices and technologies that have been around for awhile and high energy prices also provide incentive for new innovations. Everything from alternative sources of energy to technologies that reduce total energy use are being implemented or considered by poultry processing plants and farms to reduce energy costs and improve bottom line performance.

Alternative fuels

1. Chicken fat used as boiler fuel
2. Poultry litter used as boiler fuel
3. Poultry litter-fired furnaces for poultry houses
4. Waxed boxes used as boiler fuel
5. Waste heat for motors use to heat water

The poultry industry produces a couple of by-products, chicken fat and poultry house litter, that are receiving a lot of attention as alternative fuel sources. Chicken fat is being collected at some processing and rendering plants and is being used as a boiler fuel on site or at other locations.

Fats, oils and greases of all kinds have value as fuels. Tyson Foods, Inc., recently announced a joint venture with Syntroleum Corp. to build several synthetic fuel plants. Tyson will provide animal fats, greases and vegetable oils, and Syntroleum will use its patented Biofining process to convert these oils into synthetic diesel and jet fuels. The first plant is scheduled to open in 2010.

Poultry litter is being used as a fuel source to generate electricity and to heat poultry houses with some prototype litter burning furnaces. Fibrominn opened its 55 megawatt power generating plant in Benson, Minn., in May 2007. The plant will burn 700,000 tons of biomass, 90 percent of which will be poultry litter, per year. Operating costs will be higher at this facility than at a coal burning power plant. Fibrominn is considering building other plants in four other states.

Another company, Earth Resources Inc., plans to have its 20-megawatt chicken litter-burning plant near Carnesville, Ga., operational next summer.

Use of poultry litter as a fuel to heat broiler and turkey houses is still in the development stage. Researchers in Missouri have worked with a small group of growers to develop a furnace, located outside of the poultry house, which will burn litter and blow hot air into the house. For details on this furnace see page 29 of this issue. Lyndale Systems is working with Tom Costello, agricultural engineering researcher at the University of Arkansas, to develop a poultry litter furnace with an auger to feed the furnace and a propane burner to ignite the litter. A typical poultry house would generate enough litter in a year to operate a furnace big enough to provide most of the heat needed to brood the birds.

Other alternative fuel furnaces being used on poultry farms include wood furnaces, waste oil furnaces and corn furnaces. Each of these types of furnaces has its advocates, but the cost and availability of the fuels vary by locale.

George H. Lee, senior engineer, Georgia Tech energy and environmental management center, said that it is wise for plants with large steam needs to have multi-fuel capabilities and to have rationales in place to determine the cost per unit of energy delivered of these alternatives. One alternative fuel source reduces solid waste disposal costs and energy costs at the same time. Wax coated boxes have long been the bane of any corrugated recycling program, but Cagle's Foods has turned its waste wax coated boxes into boiler fuel. The wax on the boxes is an excellent fuel and the boxes can be burned in solid waste boilers. Jim Walsh, a researcher at the Georgia Tech energy and environmental management center, reports that Cagle's has been burning waxed boxes to fire boilers at processing plants and feed mills for over a decade.

Two for the price of one

6. Internal combustion engines used to generate electricity and heat water
7. Heat pump to chill and heat water at the same time

Internal combustion engines and electric motors convert fuel or electricity into mechanical energy and waste heat. Large electric motors are used to run everything from refrigeration compressors to pellet mills. Systems are available to capture the waste heat these motors generate and put it to use heating water.

Michigan Turkey Producers' slaughter plant in Wyoming, Mich. uses large internal combustion engines to power generators which produce electricity to operate the plant. Heat from the generators is used to operate the plants boiler and heat its scalder. Any poultry facility that uses generators as part of their utility company's load management system should explore options for capturing waste heat.

Heat pumps are used to transfer heat from one medium to another. Dr. Jatal D. Mannapperuma, food engineering specialist, University California at Davis, reported on how this technology can be applied to poultry processing in the December 2006 edition of WATT PoultryUSA ( He explained how a heat pump can be used to both heat water for the scalder and cool water for the chiller providing significant energy savings.

Refrigeration savings

8. Desiccant dehumidifying in freezers, coolers and processing plants
9. Reducing ammonia compressor head pressure
10. Switch to demand defrost control
11. Balance plant air exhaust

Operating red-water chillers, processing room refrigeration units, product coolers and blast freezers takes up a large portion of a poultry plant's electrical usage. Mike Brown, senior engineer, Georgia Tech energy and environmental management center, has helped perform 10 energy assessment audits of poultry operations over the past year. He said that typical recommendations in the refrigeration area were to reduce ammonia compressor head pressure, switch to demand based defrost control, add variable frequency drives on air handler fans, and to balance plant exhaust with outside makeup air to prevent refrigeration loss.


Efficiently dehumidifying air within the processing plant or freezers can help to reduce the total utility bill. It takes energy to condense the water vapor out of air and ice forming on evaporators reduces efficiency and increases the frequency of defrost cycles. Desiccant dehumidifying systems remove water vapor from the air using less energy than would be expended to remove the water vapor by condensing it with refrigeration. A desiccant dehumidifying system uses a mineral wheel to remove the water vapor from the air and then uses hot air to evaporate the water vapor off the desiccant wheel.

The latest generation of desiccant dehumidifying systems from Munters employs a heat exchanger to recapture heat from heated air after the air is used to evaporate water vapor from the desiccant wheel, and then this heat energy is reused to evaporate water. Desiccant dehumidifying systems are in use at several poultry plants to control condensation and reduce energy use.

Transportation savings

12. Variable frequency drive air handlers
13. Aero packages for tractor trailers
14. Auxiliary power units for over-the-road tractors
15. Super-size single tires for over-the-road trailers
16. Adjust packagingto eliminate waste and increase pack density

Wal-Mart has embarked on a program whose goal is to double its fleet's fuel efficiency in the next 10 years. The company operates a fleet of 7,200 trucks, and doubling fuel efficiency would save $300 million per year given a $2.60 per gallon diesel fuel price. Changes already made to Wal-Mart's fleet include aero packages for tractors, aero side -skirts for trailers, super-size single tires and auxiliary power units. The auxiliary power units are sized to heat or cool the cab during the driver's Department of Transportation required rest breaks, so that the tractor's main engine can be turned off. The auxiliary power units alone are expected to save $26 million worth of diesel fuel each year. Some of these fuel saving innovations could be applied to a poultry company's over-the-road fleets.

Wal-Mart is also working with its suppliers to reduce packaging on products and to reduce the amount of "air" that is shipped. Poultry meat is relatively dense and heavy, yet truckloads of tray pack or further processed products sometimes weigh less than 40,000 pounds. Eliminating head space in boxes, designing tray and package placements that fully utilize internal box space can help ensure that loads of product "gross out" before they "cube out."

Energy efficient lighting alternatives

17. Replace incandescent bulbs with energy efficient alternatives
18. Use photo cells to adjust light levels in curtain sided housing

Poultry operations run around the clock, indoors and out, so lighting choices can have a significant impact on electrical usage. Fluorescent, sodium vapor and mercury vapor lights have become popular choices for lighting in processing plants and in the areas outside of plants and farms because they use less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Light plays a role in regulating hormone release in birds and these hormones affect the rate of growth and onset of sexual maturity. Low light levels are used to control growth and delay sexual maturity in broiler meat birds and in young broiler and turkey breeders. Relatively high light levels are used to stimulate egg production in turkey and broiler breeder flocks and growth in turkey meat birds.

Fluorescent and sodium vapor lights became popular energy saving choices for lighting broiler and turkey houses in the 1980s. The subsequent move to low intensity lighting programs in broilermeat bird flocks caused a shift back to incandescent bulbs in broiler houses, because incandescent lights are dimmable. Light emitting diode (LED) lights and cold cathode lights use less energy than incandescent lights and are dimmable. Cold cathode lights are being used in many broiler houses today, because a 5 watt cold cathode bulb will produce the same light as a 40 watt incandescent bulb.

A new lighting option now exists for turkey growers who have curtain sided houses. New dimmable fluorescent lights hooked to a timer and photocell combination allows for the proper amount of light to be maintained in the houses while reducing energy usage. The photo cells measure light levels in several locations in the house and the individual lights are controlled to provide just the required amount of light, and no more. Farm tests with turkey meat birds has shown that these systems can pay for themselves in three to four years with reduced electricity usage.

Solar power

19. Solar panels to generate electricity
20. Poultry house ceiling vents to utilize solar heat

Allen Family Foods and the University of Delaware have partnered on a demonstration project using solar panels to generate electricity for a broiler house. This project is testing the economic feasibility of generating power, using a battery system for storage, and selling the power back to the grid.

The sun's energy is also being used to help heat poultry houses with the addition of attic vents. This technology was discussed in the November 2006 edition of WATT PoultryUSA.

Energy efficient alternatives are available for everything from electric motors to aerodynamically shaped tractor trailers to conically shaped fan housings. The run-up in fossil fuel prices has created a market for just about everything that will burn, including poultry fat and litter. Rising energy prices will continue to provide an impetus for innovation, and the poultry industry will continue to be a model of efficiency.