The state of Delaware has a "dead bird problem." And three Delmar High School seniors will be going to college on the strength of their proposed solution: turning the deceased fowl into an energy source.
Kimberly Brittingham, Charles Phiefer, and Justine Wood suggested the idea during a national high-school science contest sponsored by the Seiko Corporation of America last year.
They theorized that the dead chickens in which the poultry-producing state abounds (some 12 million are said to die each year of disease and malnutrition) give off methane--a colorless, odorless gas that that can be used as fuel.
Recently, the trio tested their theory and got proof that dead chickens do, indeed, release methane, said Rachel Wood, their adviser and biology teacher.
Under the students' proposal, the dead birds would be collected weekly and left in a stainless-steel tank to decay. Special African algae that thrive on acid solutions would eat away carbon dioxide and water, and a generator would be used to burn off the rising methane, producing energy.
The students got their inspiration from an article they read last summer about a similar "bio-gas generator" in Virginia, Ms. Wood said.
For their work, the three have each been awarded a $10,000 scholarship from Seiko. The school also received $10,000.
The students' efforts won't win them much thanks among the denizens
of Sussex County, however. Chickens there outnumber people 1,955 to