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Fecal matters

June 27, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 26

The article “Much Ado about Chicken Poo” (C&EN, April 18, page 21) brought back memories of my summer job while I was in college. In 1971 and 1972, I was an intern at Gates Rubber Co. in Denver, working in the chemistry division. The company owned a chicken farm, and we were working on projects to make useful materials from the farm’s chicken waste.

It was found that purines and pyrimidines could be isolated from the waste and many interesting derivatives could be made from those starting materials. Not too long after we began to have success making useful compounds, the people running the farm found that they could improve the efficiency of the operation by having the chickens roost above a trough through which water could be run to remove the accumulated waste without requiring labor to scrape it up and shovel it into a pile of dry material. Unfortunately for us, our key compounds decomposed rapidly when wet, so our supply of raw materials disappeared.

Perhaps those involved with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, program mentioned by the C&EN article will fare better because they are recovering inorganic components. But they will still need to contend with the hurdles that arise when green chemistry and sustainability come up against current economics.

Robert Davidson
Bloomington, Minn.


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