Forget hybrid engines, battery-powered vehicles or hydrogen-driven cars! If the scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, can get their acts right, then you could soon be driving a car powered by the human excreta.
While the search for a ‘greener’ alternative fuel continues to keep many researchers busy, a group of scholars from UCLA have taken an altogether different route. With the objective of inventing the next generation of advanced biofuels, the researchers are working on producing renewable energy from the heaps of human and animal excretion.
But why choose human waste? Firstly because these are available in abundance. Secondly and most importantly, they are rich in protein – an organic compound that can easily be turned into energy.
The idea is to prevent the waste matters getting wasted. Not only the human manure, they also have plans to recycle other forms of biodegradable wastes including agricultural waste, municipal sewage and fermentation leftovers, which does nothing except for pumping greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane emissions, into the atmosphere.
The plan is to engineer Bacillus subtilis, a soil bacteria, to be more efficient at breaking down the protein molecules. The team is pinning their hopes on engineering the metabolism process of these micro-organisms so that instead of just growing on this protein, they are able to use it to produce products.
At the moment, the researchers have successfully used this bacterial system to produce alcohol biofuels and ammonia. Down the line, the plan is to further study the bacterial metabolism process and find ways to improve on the quality (energy density) of biofuels and produce other compounds of interest.
Will such a day ever come when you could just drop ‘it‘ right into your car’s fuel tank and go for a environment-friendly ‘greener’ drive? Let’s wait for the surprises to unfold.