The development of biofuels is essential for a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system, and the waste product of one of the world’s most endangered species could be key to their development.
Biofuels like ethanol, butanol and propanol, are commonly produced by the action of microorganisms and enzymes through the fermentation of sugars or starches, which is criticized as a less-than-ethical use of crops that could otherwise be consumed as food.
The key to developing a truly sustainable biofuel rests on researchers’ ability to find a way to transform non-food biomass, like grass, sawdust or old newspapers, into an affordable fuel.
That’s why attendees at the recent national meeting of the American Chemical Society are suddenly falling in love with panda poop.
It turns out that thanks to a special microbe in its digestive tract, the panda is adept at breaking down super-tough plant materials — grasses, corn stalks and wood chips. The same materials that are perfectly suited for biofuels.
By gathering and studying samples of panda bear feces, scientists hope to be able to engineer the digestive enzymes on a large scale so plant waste could be used to make biofuels without the use of food crops like corn, sugar beets and wheat.
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