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KNOXVILLE – A University of Tennessee Space Institute scientist may have found a way to reuse a plentiful agricultural resource: chicken manure.

Dr. Atul Sheth said he’s learned how to extract hydrogen and methane from chicken manure, and store it for industrial purposes.

“These gases that we’ve produced have a heating value of 300 BTUs per standard cubic foot,” Sheth said. “If you compare that to natural gas, which has about 1,000 BTUs per standard cubic foot, these gases aren’t as rich as natural gas, but they still have a significant heating value.”

Federal regulators from the United States Department of Agriculture have looked for ways to reduce the amount of chicken waste that fouls streams and rivers, Sheth said, and his process can convert that waste to a cheap form of energy.

“This fuel gas, as we call it, can be used as a source of energy where you burn it in place of propane or natural gas for power generation systems, or to produce heat,” Sheth said.

Sheth said he’s received a $75,000 grant from the USDA for his research. He wants to construct a pilot plant for manure processing to test the research. The plant could cost as much as $1.5 million. Sheth said he would build it on a chicken farm or poultry processing plant.