Human reliance on fossil fuels has wrecked the environment, caused wars, and generally been less than ideal. At the same time, though, it has let us build an enormous, powerful infrastructure that’s greatly advanced our society. Throwing that away wouldn’t be good, so we need to come up with a new method of making fuel. And fortunately, we may have one, which has the bonus of letting us make with the toilet humor!
David Wernick, a UCLA grad student, is essentially trying to solve two problems at once. The first is fossil fuels, and the second is the billion tons of turds America alone cranks out every year. Seriously, between us and our livestock, the U.S. has a lot of poop. And giant piles of feces are lousy for the environment, too; in fact as they decompose, they give off greenhouse gases far more potent than carbon dioxide. So Wernick is turning them into fuel.
How? By genetically engineering bacteria to convert the protein contained in manure into energy-rich fuel. Currently, the work indicates that this would be an easy swap. You could switch your car over from gasoline to Wernick’s poo fuel with no problem. Granted, this would take away our ability to get to work with exploding dinosaurs, but this is also environmentally friendly and, just as importantly, cheaper. The biofuel Wernick is creating doesn’t appear to need any refinement or any replacement of infrastructure, and it’s not like any farmer is going to turn you down if you offer to take most of their bullsh*t, and the ability to make this stuff in sewage treatment plants and elsewhere could cut up to a dollar off the price of gas by reducing distribution and refining costs.
In addition to manure, Wernick can use other sources, like the leftovers of brewing and wastewater algae, which may sound familiar as it’s closely tied to other biofuels research. That said, the jet-fuel market appears out of reach for now, so we’ll just have to leave that to the sugar industry.