May 25 - Researchers are trying to convert human fecal waste into butanol to power cars of the future. Butanol is a high-energy fuel similar to gasoline. Using genetically engineered fungus, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis believes it could one day be produced from one of the world' s most plentiful waste products. Ben Gruber has more.
It's the sound of waste management all over the world. The call of nature is responsible for the production of countless tonnes of human waste that has to be dealt with safely and efficiently all day, every day. But what if all that waste could be broken down and converted into fuel....a clean, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels for the world's cars? Yinjie Tang, a chemical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, thinks it may be possible. Tang's idea , funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, starts with the process of anaerobic digestion to break down fecal matter. (SOUNDBITE) (English) YINJIE TANG, PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We use anaerobic digestion to treat these materials first and then we will remove a lot of the harmful bacteria." Tang says the solid waste that remains can be converted to butanol, a high energy fuel similar to gasoline, by applying a genetically modified fungus.. (SOUNDBITE) (English) YINJIE TANG, PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We want to put a gene into the fungi so they can degrade this solid waste and meanwhile they make this biofuel from this solid waste." Tang says the key is finding the right genetic modification that will allow the fungi's enzymes to convert the remaining cellulose and carbohydrates in the remains into fuel. Tang says there are still many years of research ahead before his concept can move out of the lab, beyond sewage treatment facilities, and onto the road. Ben Gruber, Reuters.