November 15, 2006 | By: Laura Skillman

Agricultural engineers from Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky are more than halfway through collecting air emissions data from two commercial broiler houses in western Kentucky in a study proposed to be used as part of a national air emissions study.

The ISU/UK project quality assurance project plan (QAPP) was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 25. Battelle Labs and the EPA have also completed a Technical Systems Audit (TSA) of the ISU/UK monitoring project. Approval of the project QAPP and completion of the TSA are the most important milestones toward use of the project data to represent air emissions from southeastern broiler systems in the National Air Emissions Monitoring Study (NAEMS) under the air compliance agreement between EPA and certain sectors of the livestock and poultry industries.

The national study will eventually include air emissions data from swine houses and manure storage facilities, poultry houses and manure storage facilities, and free-stall dairy facilities across the country. Currently the ISU/UK broiler emissions study is the only study in which researchers are collecting data that is proposed to be used in the NAEMS effort. 

Data will be collected, then analyzed and reported to the EPA. The idea behind the monitoring is to gather baseline information that can be used to evaluate differences in emissions due to geographical region, season of the year, time of day, building design, growth cycle of the animals and building management. Notably, the emissions data will provide a scientific basis for improving the national emissions inventory and establishing appropriate air emissions guidelines. 

The QAPP approval process, as well as a related technical systems audit to confirm that the ISU/UK broiler emissions project is in compliance with written procedures, was conducted in late September with auditors from both EPA and Battelle Labs.

Robert Burns, an associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at ISU, is the project leader. Hongwei Xin, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at ISU, and Richard Gates, professor and chair of the biosystems and agricultural engineering department at UK, are project co-leaders.

“We were told that the same Battelle auditors and the EPA Region 5 auditors who trained at our site will be auditing the NAEMS projects in the future,” Burns said. “Since our project is the first to be collecting data, our team was happy to serve in a leadership role by providing the site where the EPA auditors could train in order to prepare for audits at the NAEMS sites that will begin monitoring sometime next year.”

The $1 million project in Kentucky, funded by Tyson Foods and the National Chicken Council, originally was designed to monitor just ammonia emissions but was later expanded to include carbon dioxide, three types of particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide and non-methane hydrocarbons. The study has been ongoing for approximately one year and has already collected data on ammonia emissions. The other parameters in the study have been collected since February 2006. The study will conclude in February 2007. A similar broiler-monitoring project is proposed to occur in California.

Steve Patrick, Tyson Foods Environmental, Health and Safety Operations director, was also in attendance at the recent audit and heavily involved in the QAPP approval process.
“The university team did an excellent job of describing their approach to the challenge of emissions measurement in broiler housing,” he said. “I was impressed with their combination of scientific credibility and hands-on practical approach.” 

“Although a final report on the audit will be forthcoming, the audit team was complimentary of the effort and planning that has gone into this project,” Gates said. “While I know our project is impressive, I was still happy to see satisfied auditors.” 

Burns, Xin and several research assistants and students designed and built the two mobile air emissions monitoring units for the project. Hong Li, an ISU postdoctoral research associate, wrote software to run the equipment and data collection system. The mobile labs filled with state-of-the-art instruments are positioned beside two mechanically ventilated commercial broiler production facilities. Each building houses about 26,000 birds.

Using continuous, high-speed satellite Internet, Burns, Xin and Li at ISU and Gates in Lexington can view real-time data from the two mobile labs, such as current temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, ammonia and particulate matter concentrations, which fans are operating and the total building ventilation rate. They also can remotely control the emissions sampling, turning valves on and off from their computers. 

Doug Overhults, UK associate Extension professor, and John Earnest Jr., staff engineer, at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, Ky., are responsible for twice-weekly and as-needed site visits to ensure smooth operation of the system. The ISU team also travels to Kentucky between flocks to perform technical auditing and maintenance, as needed, of the entire monitoring system – one of the many, stringent QAPP procedures.

“The approved QAPP will not only continue to serve as the road map for the completion of this project but should prove beneficial to the planning and implementation of the future NAEMS projects,” Xin said.


Richard Gates, (859) 257-3000 ext. 127, Robert Burns, (515) 294-4203, Hongwei Xin, (515) 294-4240