Renewable Energy Not Necessarily Cleaner Than Coal

by Jonathan Tolman on April 13, 2009

One irony of mandating renewable energy is that it isn’t necessarily any cleaner than coal.  One example of this is North Carolina’s mandate for renewable energy derived from chicken litter waste.   Chicken litter waste is composed of wood shavings and of course chicken droppings.  There are plans to build a chicken litter waste plant in North Carolina and one has already been built in Minnesota.

As it turns out, burning chicken litter waste tends to produce a high level of particulates, high levels of carbon monoxide, high levels of nitrogen oxides, and a high level of arsenic.  The reason the plants produce high levels of particulates and carbon monoxide is because the wood shavings don’t burn as hot as coal and so there is often incomplete combustion.  The high levels of nitrogen oxides come from the fact the chicken waste is high in ammonia and urea.  In fact, chicken waste is often used as a source of nitrogen fertilizer on farms.   The reason for the high levels of arsenic is that most commercial chicken feed contains Roxarsone, which is an arsenic based compound that is added to the chicken feed to prevent the birds from developing parasites.

The emissions at the Minnesota plant are apparently so problematic the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  has pending legal action.  So much for clean green renewable energy.

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