Can Chicken Poop Help Slow Climate Change?

Industrial poultry farms are the site of horrific conditions and troubling practices, but the market potential of a charcoal-like substance known as “biochar” has some farmers looking at their chickens in a whole new light.

USA Today recently reported on a West Virginia farmer who’s transforming the 600 tons of manure his chickens produce annually into biochar, which is considered to be a valuable organic fertilizer for farmers and gardeners.

Recently the agriculturally-inclined have begun to re-examine an ancient soil amendment called Terra Preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese), now referred to as biochar or agri-char.

Biochar is a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. Oils and gases co-produced with biochar, in well-designed pyrolysis or gasification equipment, can be used as fuel, providing clean, renewable energy. When the biochar is buried in the ground as a soil amendment, the system can become “carbon negative.” (International Biochar Initiative)

“I thought it was crazy at first, and my wife still thinks it’s nuts,” Josh Frye, 44, admitted to USA Today. Yet the farmer said that he has sold nearly $1,000 worth of biochar to farmers as far away as New Jersey, and plans to sell much more as he refines production. Venture capitalists, soil scientists and even members of Congress have all come to Frye’s farm to see whether his example can be repeated.

If successful, Frye’s little experiment could spark an industry that values the chicken poop more than the birds themselves.

While politicians in Washington bicker and quarrel over the “fairness” of industrial greenhouse has regulations, and the feasibility of a cap and trade system, those concerned about climate change are looking for a cheap green solution that can help them reduce emissions now, instead of later.

“Techniques such as biochar may represent the best compromise between what’s good for the environment, and what’s affordable during the recession,” Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told USA Today. Capito visited Frye’s farm in August.

The incinerator that Frye uses to convert the organic matter into biochar uses very little oxygen, which means that the process produces no smoke or smell. Frye funnels some of the resulting heat into his chicken houses where it helps keep the hatchlings warm.

And this isn’t the first time that biochar has caught the government’s attention.

Back in September of 2009, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and four cosponsors introduced the “Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009.” The bill establishes a loan guarantee program to develop biochar technology, initiates a program of biochar landscape restoration projects on public land, and authorizes a competitive grant program to fund research on biochar characteristics, impacts and economics.”

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - Nanimo


LMj Sunshine

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Stella Watermeyer
Stelizan L.5 years ago

Very informative and interesting article - hope the biochar industry gets off to a good start and quickly proves its potential to stabilise and restore the planet's equilibrium!

Ann Eastman
Ann Eastman6 years ago

I'll be very interested in whether biochar lives up to this potential. The tenor of this article was encouraging.

Daniel M.
Past Member 6 years ago

1) The decision of the United States Congress to pass the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act was based in part on testimony derived from articles in newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, who, some authorsTemplate:Http:// stress, had significant financial interests in the forest industry, which manufactured his newsprint.
2) Hemp paper threatened DuPont's monopoly on the necessary chemicals for manufacturing paper from trees and hemp fiber cloth would compete with Nylon, a synthetic fibre, that was patented in 1938, the year hemp was made illegal It is often asserted in pro-cannabis publications that DuPont actively supported the criminalization of the production of hemp in the US in 1937 through private and government intermediates, and alleged that this was done to eliminate hemp as a source of fiber—one of DuPont's biggest markets at the time. DuPont denies allegations that it influenced hemp regulation.

3)Hemp for Victory is a black-and-white United States government film made during World War II, explaining the uses of hemp, encouraging farmers to grow as much as possible.


Daniel M.
Past Member 6 years ago

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for contacting the Sierra Club and for your comments. I will be sure to pass them on to our Executive Director, Michael Brune.

Your support of the Sierra Club is greatly appreciated. Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Best Regards,

David Perry
Sierra Club Information
(Please include this email in your reply)

Michael Brune
Executive Director, Sierra Club


We, the Concerned Citizens of America, respectfully request that the leading organizations for preserving nature and the environment, promoting alternative fuel sources, and climate change awareness, take a stand and unite in the pursuit to end the Federal ban on Hemp.

The Gulf of Mexico - Oil Disaster is a Wake-Up Call that America needs to embrace and develop an alternative to oil as a fuel source. The time has come to look to our past, for what is the most viable source of energy from the most resourceful plant, that was so foolishly banned by an act of ignorance. The plant that was grown since the first settlers arrived in Jamestown and revered by our Founding Fathers who praised it as a wonder of nature.

"Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere." George Washington

"Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country." Thomas Jefferson

The issue of hemp?s true potential has been virtually ignored by the mainstream media but if one does a search on the Internet, a

Daniel M.
Past Member 6 years ago

Planting only 6 percent of the continental United States with biomass crops such as hemp would supply all current domestic demands for oil and gas.
Did you know the average American spends 33 of 40 working hours to support their need for energy? It's true; 80 percent of the total monetary living expense for everything we do is ultimately wrapped up in energy costs; from the energy it takes to make the food we eat, to fuel for the cars we drive, to the manufacturing, storage and transportation of the products we buy. And 80 percent of solid and airborne pollution in our environment can be blamed on fossil energy sources. It is estimated that America has already exhausted 80 percent of its fossil fuel reserves.
Industrial hemp is the number one biomass producer on earth, meaning an actual contender for an economically competitive, clean burning fuel. Hemp has four times the biomass and cellulose potential and eight times the methanol potential of its closest competing crop - corn. Burning coal and oil are the greatest sources of acid rain; biomass fuels burn clean and contain no sulphur and produce no ash during combustion. The cycle of growing and burning biomass crops keeps the world s carbon dioxide level at perfect equilibrium, which means that we are less likely to experience the global climactic changes (greenhouse effect) brought about by excess carbon dioxide and water vapors after burning fossil fuels.

Michael C.
Michael C.6 years ago

A fascinating idea. Could it be incorporated with the "urban chicken" concept of small-scale chicken farming?