Can geothermal power solve the poultry energy crisis?

Learn how two American poultry farms use heat pumps to heat and cool their houses.
Geothermal heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems could help the poultry industry combat skyrocketing energy costs and rising prices caused by inflation.

Combination of solar energy with conventional heat pumps
In Cullman, Alabama, a 2019 demonstration project led by Tyson Foods, Auburn University College of Agriculture and Southern Solar Systems aimed to create a poultry house that uses solar energy as its primary energy source.

“Part of this project was figuring out how to capture some value in what would otherwise be solar waste when we couldn’t use it directly in poultry houses. So we were looking to translate some of that,” said Dennis Brothers, adjunct professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Auburn University.

“The idea of ​​a heat exchanger has been a hot topic in poultry for many years, but in my experience most are not ideal because you’re trying to exchange dirty, wet, ammonia-saturated air in the poultry house,” Brothers added.

Instead of exchanging air from inside the house, heat pumps use air from outside the poultry house, which helps solve this problem.

During the first two years of the project, the poultry house with a combination of heat pump and solar system used 26% less natural gas compared to the control building, which contributed to an improved environment for the birds with increased ventilation. Anecdotally, the house also often exhibited lower humidity, which benefits poultry welfare.

“From this demonstration, we were able to see where efficiencies could be gained, what a future full system might look like, and we also learned a lot about how complementary heat pump systems could be optimized – leading to Southern Solar System doing projects with geothermal heat pumps and hopefully demonstrate a full solar/heat pump farm in the near future,” he explained.

Enter geothermal
Unlike conventional heat pumps, where heat is exchanged from the air, geothermal heat pumps take heat from the ground water at a constant temperature and transfer it to the air, which is then fed into the house through traditional fresh air intakes. These systems can also cool by taking heat from the air and transferring it to the much cooler groundwater.

Due to the success and lessons learned from the initial trial in Alabama, the decision was made to install a geothermal HVAC system on a poultry farm in Missouri. This was made possible in part by Missouri’s high water table, which allowed for the installation of a heat pump powered by nearby accessible groundwater. This system provided the desired temperature in the poultry house even for day-old birds.

“There are a large number of poultry farms across the country that have a readily available water source, which gives us the added efficiency that is commonly available with a geothermal heat pump over a standard air source,” added Larry Bradford, president of Southern Solar Systems


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