Fueling Cars with Feces

A microbe has been found that can break down anything that contains cellulose and turn it into ethanol.

In 1996, Thomas Warnick was exploring the Quabbin Reservoir in Belchertown, Massachusetts, when he came across a tiny microbe with a big name—Clostridium phytofermentans. Warnick, a microbiology research assistant at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was sent to the reservoir to find micro-organisms that could break down plant cellulose. His boss, Susan Leschine, had searched areas as diverse as Brazil, France and Hawaii for these organisms, but she’d never seen anything quite like what Warnick brought back.

The “Q microbe,” as it came to be known, is no ordinary bug. It can ingest—and produce ethanol from—virtually anything that contains cellulose, including human and animal sewage waste. So Qteros, the company Leschine founded to exploit the microbe’s abilities commercially, struck up a partnership with Applied CleanTech (ACT), an Israeli firm that generates alternative energy from wastewater solids. ACT’s sewage-recycling system transforms solids into “recyllose.” It turns out the Q microbe has a sweet tooth for recyllose, converting the cotton-like substance into ethanol for use in automobiles.

Jeff Hausthor, Qteros’ lead researcher, imagines a uniquely local market for this new biofuel. Obviously, waste materials are a burden to farms and municipalities, both financially and ecologically. But by putting the Q microbe to work, small-scale ethanol plants situated around sewage processing plants could become a reality.

By Dan Schank, Ode Magazine


Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz7 years ago

~Very informative article!~Who knew that something useful could be made from human waste~

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G7 years ago

This is nothing new.
In the seventies oil crisis, an older guy came up with a clean and inexpensive solution to turn his human waste in a perfectly clean combustible..We never heard from him again. He must have been silenced by the oil industry!
I believe I saw this on ABC and I wrote to them several times to look up in their archives but I did not even receive a response..They too must have been silenced by the oil companies...

Marcia Machado
Marcia Machado7 years ago

Great idea.

Emily D.
Emily Drew7 years ago

thank you very interesting.

K s Goh
KS Goh7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Howard C.
.7 years ago

A really interesting article. Humanity demands (needs) to use cars and other energy hungry devices, powering them in a green way much surely be a really good idea. There is probably a down-side to this technology but it sure seems better than relying on imported oil.

Bon L.
Bon L8 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Rosie H.
Rosie H.8 years ago

Green vehicles function wholly or partially on alternative energy sources like fossil fuels.Hybrid cars may be powered on hydrogen or fossil fuel or electric power.They are the most expensive but also help the vehicle attain high fuel economy really quick!

Susan Roth
Susan Roth8 years ago

It is certainly a renewable resource!

Gabriela T.
Gabriela T.8 years ago

I love reading positive stuff like this! I'm glad that some folks out there, in the name of making a buck are also helping the planet.
Cheers- we should push this next generation into thinking like that, and they could make a lot of money too!