In Minnesota, foul from fowl may become fuel

Published May 24, 2007

BENSON, Minn. - The gray, sandy mix of turkey droppings and other bits and pieces flowing through Greg Langmo's fingers back onto the floor of his barn isn't just funky dirt, it's fuel.

With 16, 000 hens gobbling around him, Langmo is standing on a 15-inch layer of turkey litter - some 750 tons - that represents a new source of energy.

It will help fuel a $200-million power plant due to begin full-scale production next month. The 55-megawatt plant will be the first poultry litter-fired power plant in the United States, producing enough renewable power for 50, 000 homes.

Poultry litter - a combination of droppings, wood chips, seed hulls, shed feathers and spilled feed - has long been spread on fields as a fertilizer. It works as a fuel because it's relatively dry, so it's easy to burn compared with cow and hog manure, which are too wet and smell far worse. Three tons of poultry litter can produce about as much energy as a ton of coal. And it burns clean.

Langmo said the plant will consume about 40 percent of Minnesota's turkey litter, turning about 1-billion pounds of it per year into electricity.

But one longtime critic of the poultry litter plants, David Morris, said that the process is not cost effective and that the litter is worth more as a fertilizer than a fuel.

"From a public policy perspective, this stinks, " he said.