Humans, and the livestock we cultivate, produce a lot of crap. Finding an efficient way to reuse all that waste would count among the ultimate recycling achievements, and scientists have been working on it for years.
In this video from the University of California Los Angeles, we get to tour a lab that’s exploring ways to turn protein wastes like sewage, manure, and plant matter into useful products like biofuel.
As UCLA researcher David Wernick tells us, humans produced a billion tons of manure in 2008. “A good portion of that is left to aerobically compost,” he says. That is, it’s left in the open air, producing methane emissions and nitrous oxide that contribute to climate change and damage the ozone layer. It’s a shitty situation.
Wernick explains that the biofuels his lab is working on are potentially better replacements for standard fuels than ethanol, because ethanol doesn’t burn the same way as gasoline and diesel. Ethanol is also corrosive, which poses a problem for storage and transportation, and typically requires growing an additional feedstock like corn.
Wernick’s lab cultivates a common bacteria (Bacillus subtilis) and genetically engineers it to feed on protein-based waste and produce chemical compounds that can be used for biofuel. However, Wernick says they haven’t yet achieved a high enough yield from their bacterial producers, so the lab is currently looking at ways to alter its metabolism.
Once that’s out of the way, the next step is finding out how to scale up production. At least we’ve already got plenty of crap.