Skip to content


Tackling the sustainability of the poultry industry

For many years, soya has traditionally been used as chicken feed within the farming industry, particularly in the UK. However, there have been widespread concerns about its use and how sustainable it is. To keep up with demand, soya farming has led to vast amounts of deforestation, especially in Brazil. Shipping the soya over to the UK requires extensive transport miles, creating a growing carbon footprint associated with poultry farming.

Whilst humans also consume soya in foods like tofu and soya milk, the majority of soya’s global production is used as animal feed. In the UK at any one time, there are approximately 29 million hens laying eggs and 116 million broilers - chickens bred and raised specifically for meat. All of these animals require a healthy and nutritious food source.  It’s more important than ever that animal farming research focuses on achieving the highest quality protein with the smallest possible impact on the planet. Researchers at NTU have come up with a cost-effective substitute for the soya used as animal feed that makes use of the 6-billion-litre per year global bioethanol market. Bioethanol is a renewable fuel, considered as a potential and more environmentally-friendly replacement for petrol. It’s created by fermenting plant crops, such as corn, wheat, sugar cane and sugar beet, and through the production process, a high protein content, fibrous residue is also formed from the yeast and plant materials used for the fermentation.

In the past, the yeasty, fibrous residue created through bioethanol production has traditionally been sold as cattle feed. With the demand for bioethanol expected to increase over the next decade, there will be a surplus of the co-product that could go to waste. Professor Emily Burton and her team found a way to use this co-product more sustainably, by turning it into high quality and environmentally-sustainable chicken food.


NTU researchers separated the yeasty broth away from the fibre produced through bioethanol production and turned it into a cost-competitive, high-in-protein replacement for the imported soya that has traditionally been used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production. Each bioethanol plant uses 1.1 million tonnes of cereal a year, and thanks to NTU research, over 180,000 tonnes of purified protein can be created per plant. This means that, as well as reducing the UK’s reliance on imported soya, the change in practice means that UK poultry producers will benefit from affordable feed costs with a lower carbon footprint.

By finding a way for the biofuel and poultry feed industry to support one another, we can responsibly produce food and fuel with reduced impact on global resources.

This research contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Futures

This research is drawn from the strategic research theme of Sustainable Futures.

Find out more

Related research groups and centres

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security

The group focuses on teaching modern production methods and management of plant crop, agronomy and post-harvest issues. They also specialise in delivering the knowledge and skills needed to implement safe practices in the production of food, as well as understanding microbial food spoilage and toxin production.

Centre for Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences and Research

Now more than ever, our planet is facing some tough challenges. With a growing population putting inevitable pressure on the Earth’s resources, plotting the path to a sustainable future has never been more vital. Research within this Centre focuses on innovation which can make a meaningful difference to our environment.

Re:gister for updates

Our research community is committed to delivering innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Sign up for email alerts to follow their progress and to stay connected to the latest research developments and opportunities at NTU.

Follow us