Skip to content

Impact case study

Reduced Environmental Impact from Meat Poultry Production Through Improved Nutrition

Unit(s) of assessment: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology

School: School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences


Three specific projects have addressed resource utilisation and pollution related to poultry production: the silicon project, the bioethanol project and the phosphorous project.

A novel form of silicon, developed by the Poultry Research Unit (PRU) at NTU, has been taken into the product portfolio of a FTSE100 company, as a feed supplement to reduce poultry lameness.

In conjunction with the company, PRU also produced evidence-based research resulting in a patent for recovering yeast from bioethanol production. Industry is now using this process to produce high-quality protein for poultry feed alongside bioethanol production to reduce the carbon footprint of both bioethanol and poultry meat production.

Silicon project

Research by PRU resulted in the successful development of an efficacious supplement. Impact is evidenced by the formation of the spin out company, Si Active, in 2009, which holds the patent to the bioavailable silica.

Over recent years, the physical development of the Poultry Research Unit has increased the UK's poultry research capacity. Since it was constructed in 2009, the unit has been used as a contract research facility by both SMEs and multi-national companies working in the poultry mineral supplements sector.

Bioethanol project

The bioethanol project used Dr Emily Burton's expertise in developing and evaluating novel feed materials to optimize a co-product from bioethanol production for use in poultry diets. The research has changed the manufacturing process used by industry resulting in the construction of a manufacturing plant. The addition of the patented yeast separation technology to a newly-built bioethanol plant will lead to an estimated 40% reduction in energy usage. The yeast protein produced reduces reliance on imported soya. This means it has an environmental impact on poultry production as it reduces the global proportion of land required for soya bean growth – which often requires the destruction of tropical rain forest.

Worldwide, bioethanol production will soon reach 100 billion litres, giving the technology enormous significance worldwide.

Phosphorus project

The phosphorus project evolved in response to the poultry industry's need for more accurate knowledge of how well minerals supplied in poultry feed were meeting the requirements of the birds. An undersupply results in reduced skeletal integrity and oversupply results in environmental pollution via poultry manure.

PRU is recognised for its expertise in poultry bone mineralisation and has initiated a bone mineralisation investigation service available to the UK and EU poultry sector, which has been implemented on a per sample basis for use by commercial companies to determine the mineral content of relevant leg bones at differing stages of bird development.

The evidence presented by Dr Burton highlighting key factors affecting phytase enzyme efficacy has resulted in changed industry practice in how a nutritional value for phosphorus is ascribed to a feed material.

Research background

The NTU Poultry Research Unit was established by Dr Emily Burton in 2007. The unit works closely with both small and large stakeholders in the UK poultry industry to reduce the resources required by the poultry sector, and to reduce the pollution resulting from poultry manure. This is achieved through improving the usage of dietary minerals by poultry and evaluating plant-based by-products as feed materials.

Perry initiated fundamental work at NTU developing a novel form of silicon which Burton subsequently developed into a major body of research. The silicon project (2009-present) examined the biological role of silicon in reducing production efficiency losses through lameness in poultry and created a bioavailable form of the mineral suitable for feeding poultry which was patented by NTU.

Burton designed poultry trials to quantify the bioavailability of the novel form of silicon and demonstrated high bioavailability across all dietary inclusion levels (200-1000ppm) and high efficacy in reducing lameness at 1000ppm.

The bioethanol project (2009-12) contributed to a patent for a novel process for separating yeast from bioethanol co-product. Globally, 60 billion litres per year of bioethanol are produced by distilling and fermenting wheat and other agricultural feed stocks, which has led to concern the process will compete with food crops for limited farmland.

Traditional bioethanol production results in a low value co-product, Dried Distillers Grains and Solubles (DDGS), which is likely to revert to a waste product likely to require incineration as existing markets for DDGS become saturated. The PRU bioethanol project has shown that yeast derived from the novel process may be a cost-competitive substitute for imported soya-based protein feed materials currently used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production. This work demonstrated how bio-refining can simultaneously provide fuel and food at a low carbon cost. Furthermore, PRU has also led a project quantifying the potential dietary phosphorus contribution of the novel bioethanol yeast co-product.

Poultry production (currently 48 billion birds per annum) negatively affects the environment through draining global resources of inorganic phosphorus and simultaneously polluting through phosphorus in poultry manure. From 2009 to present, the PRU phosphorus project, led by Dr Burton, investigated factors affecting the ability of poultry to utilise dietary minerals.

The majority of phosphorus in poultry feed is in a form that cannot be absorbed from the digestive tract and is therefore excreted in manure. Phosphorus is essential for bone development, so approximately 85% of global pig and poultry feed manufacture involves additng the enzyme phytase to make dietary phosphorus available for bone development, and reduce the amount of phosphorus present in poultry manure. So the PRU research has been of key interest to the industry, demonstrating the negative effects of excess dietary limestone on phytase efficacy. PRU weas commissioned to establish precisely the degree of dietary phosphorus utilisation by poultry and Burton showed phosphorus to be currently oversupplied in poultry feed.