The cost of heating poultry facilities isn’t chicken feed and a team of West Virginia University researchers has figured out a way to cut those costs while also reducing potentially harmful – and smelly – emissions.

The team designed, built and evaluated a unit that incorporates a biofilter and a heat exchanger to reduce ammonia emissions from livestock barns, while also heating up the fresh air that is pumped into the barns.

The prototype removed up to 79 percent of ammonia from the poultry house’s emissions and cut the energy needed to heat the facility, recovering as much as 8.3 kilowatts.

Tom Basden, nutrient management specialist with WVU Extension, was principal investigator on the project. He collaborated with David Workman, Hardy County Extension agent, and two employees of the Reymann Memorial Farm, a research and outreach unit of WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design in Wardensville: Jerry Yates, farm manager, and Chestina Merriner, a research assistant at the farm.

Two former Extension experts also participated in the project. Sanjay Shah, now with North Carolina State University, and June DeGraft-Hanson of the University of Maryland carried their participation in the project from WVU to their new academic homes.

Ammonia emissions are reduced through the use of a biofiltration mechanism. Polluted air filters through an organic medium like compost or wood chips. Bacteria in the medium interact with the pollutants and break them down into harmless or less harmful components.

Biofiltration of the ammonia-rich air also allows for the capture of nitrogen in the filter medium. When the compost or wood chips are applied on agricultural land, the nitrogen becomes available to the crops.

While the biofiltration process adds costs to animal agriculture operations, researchers hope to defray those costs by cutting the operation’s energy costs. Warm, polluted air from the livestock facility enters the biofilter, and some of the heat from that air is transferred to fresh air from outside and is pumped into the building via a heat exchanger. Warm air is essential for successful animal production, especially with poultry and swine.

Ammonia is released from chicken and swine houses in large quantities and contributes to nutrient loading problems such as hypoxia. Ammonia also indirectly contributes to greenhouse gases because it can break down into nitrous oxide in the ground. It’s also a precursor to very fine particulate matter, which contributes to haze and public health problems such as asthma.

Yates and Merriner were involved with all aspects of the study, including design, upkeep, instrumentation, data collection of the heat exchanger and biofilter system, proper functioning of the poultry house, air exchange, temperature control, humidity, and growth, development and care of the broilers in Reymann’s 5,000-bird poultry house.

“We split it into two equal parts and ran one side with conventional methods and the other adapted with the heat exchanger/biofilter system,” Basden explained

Shah, who led the project while employed by WVU, was lead author on an article on the project, which was published in the December issue of Applied Engineering in Agriculture.



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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