Gaseous Emissions from In-house Broiler Litter


Broiler litter is a valuable fertilizer but can also be a source of odorous and GHG emissions during production, storage, and land application. Impacts of these emissions are felt by local communities, posing respiratory health impacts and decreased quality of life, as well as increased deposition into soil and water systems. This study seeks to quantify the magnitude of emissions associated with in-house broiler litter and estimate variability across farms. Finally, the study evaluates litter parameters, such as litter age and chemical composition, for gas emission predictors.

What Did We Do?

A set of five active broiler houses in North Carolina were sampled to measure gaseous emissions (NH3, H2S, CH4, N2O, CO2, and VOCs) using headspace flux measurement gas samples. Headspace gas concentrations were measured at 1 hour and 3 hours after incubation at 30°C using a photoacoustic analyzer (Innova 1412) for NH3, CH4, N2O, and CO2 and Jerome 631-X was used to measure H2S, concentration. The headspace was also sampled to quantify VOCs associated with odorous emissions. After incubation, water extraction was used to quantify less volatile organic species that are associated with odorous emissions in the litter. Experimental setup is described in Figure 1. Statistical software, JMP, was utilized for analysis of litter composition on NH3, H2S, CH4, N2O, CO2, and VOC gaseous emissions.

Figure 1. Broiler emission experimental setup

What Have We Learned?

H2S emissions were very low (< 0.01 ppm) and did not produce statistically significant observations. There was a wide range of emissions from the litter samples for different gases as shown in Figure 2: 146-555 ppm NH3, 1.5-22 ppm N2O, 4,077-50,835 ppm CO2, and 9.1-43.3 ppm CH4. The differences between farms accounted for 86%, 81%, 76%, and 84% of the variability in NH3, N2O, CO2, CH4 observations, respectively. This could be attributed to differences in integrator and management strategies. Moisture content and age of the litter were the primary contributing factors to increased gaseous emissions from all samples. More specifically, NH3 was largely impacted by pH (p < 0.01), while N2O, CO2, and CH4 were largely impacted by C:N (p < 0.01). Quantitative VOC analysis was difficult due to the number of gases detected by the GC-MS (20+), however the most common species present in the litter samples were a variety of volatile fatty acids, alcohols, phenol, as well as a few amines, ketols, and terpenes.

Figure 2. Photoacoustic flux measurements of litter samples at 1 and 3 hour intervals.

Future Plans

These results will serve as baseline emission readings for odor and emission control strategies. We are currently developing Miscanthus-derived biochar as a poultry litter amendment for emission mitigation in poultry houses. This dataset will inform our decision making to help target gaseous species of top concern in NC broiler litter by methods of physical and chemical biochar modification.


Presenting author

Carly Graves, Graduate Research Assistant, North Carolina State University

Corresponding author

Dr. Mahmoud Sharara, Assistant Professor & Waste Management Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University

Corresponding author email address


Funding for this project is through Bioenergy Research Initiative (BRI)- NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS): Miscanthus Biochar Potential as A Poultry Litter Amendment