A Moment of Science

Turkey Power

Turkey isn't just what's for dinner anymore. Waste from the feathered holiday creature can now be transformed into other kinds of energy.

Turkey farm

Photo: cyanocorax (flickr)

Waste produced by turkeys like these on a farm in Maryland can be used as an alternative energy source

Turkey isn’t just what’s for dinner anymore. Waste from the feathered holiday creature can now be transformed into other kinds of energy.

A few years ago, a company started turning leftover turkey parts, such as the bones, innards, and feathers into crude oil. The process, known as thermal depolymerization, mimics what the planet does naturally when pressure turns organic matter into petroleum, except a lot faster. Now a turkey-poop-driven power plant has sprung up in Minnesota. The plant collects droppings from nearby turkey farms, and transforms them into electricity.

Turkey waste isn’t the first animal waste to be used to produce alternative energy, yak dung has been used for years in Asia. However, in comparison to many other animals’ waste, turkey waste is well suited for the job. It is mostly dry, alleviating the problem of having to remove water in order to burn it.

Though alternative energy sources are certainly in demand, turkey waste may not be an ideal candidate. While the turkey waste-driven power plant makes a small dent in our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels, it’s not exactly a clean energy source. The plant produces pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

There’s concern, too, that all the effort to transform turkey waste into electricity simply isn’t worth the effort. To power a few rural communities for a year, the plant will have to burn about 500,000 tons of turkey manure. Critics say a medium sized coal-driven plant produces ten times that amount of energy and that all the effort it takes to harness the energy in turkey waste is a waste.

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