Scientists Trying to Make Fuel from Zoo Poo

John Davis

hippoGet your pooper-scoopers ready, because scientists in New Orleans are tapping into the products of some zoo animals’ backsides to move forward in green energy.

The New Orleans CityBusiness reports
that researchers at Tulane University are trying to produce butanol from the waste of animals from the zoo:

A project to identify and genetically engineer bacteria to create butanol has been under way at a Tulane lab for just more than a year. The work is funded in part through a grant the U.S. Department of Energy awarded to the coalition of six Louisiana universities that comprise the Clean Power and Energy Research Consortium.

“We are on the cutting edge here,” said W.T. Godbey, a Tulane assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering who is one of the project’s investigators.

Once the researchers determine the best bacteria for producing biobutanol, they intend to genetically modify them to produce higher yields of the chemical and to digest cellulose so biomass sources that might have otherwise wound up in landfills can be used to produce fuel…

smithericTo date, the Tulane researchers have identified more than a dozen different strains of bacteria capable of catalyzing the butanol fermentation process. The bacteria have been obtained from feces collected from plant-eating animals at the Audubon Zoo.

“It sounds — and is — humorous, the image of scientists running around the backside of a giraffe or hippo,” [Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute] said, “but these animals evolved an efficient way of consuming cellulose long before we thought about it.”

The scientists say butanol contains significantly more energy per volume than ethanol, blends more readily with gasoline and can be distributed through existing pipelines.