Poop to Plastic

Turns out there may be more uses for cow poop than just converting into energy: Dr. Steven Pratt, a researcher at New Zealand’s Massey University, believes that, through the power of fermentation, “cow pats,” as they call them down under, could be turned into a bioplastic:

It almost sounds too good to be true – turning cow pats into plastic. But the unlikely-looking liquid in the flask Dr Steven Pratt holds is the key ingredient to an environmentally friendlier drink bottle.

The murky mix of acids is produced by fermenting bacteria taken from wastewater ponds and fed with a glucose solution. A glucose solution is used in this laboratory situation, but the bacteria will feed with equal efficiency on dairy-farm effluent or other carbon-based wastewater.

It is the renewable and biodegradable nature of such ingredients that give the types of plastic produced from the acids the classification of β€˜bio-plastics’.

A researcher in the Centre for Environmental Technology and Engineering, Dr Pratt says the potential for bioplastic production in New Zealand is huge.

β€œThe waste produced by our agricultural and pulp and paper industries is ideal, and there is so much of it.”

He says plastics are a major environmental problem as they are non-biodegradable and their production from synthetic polymers consumes vast quantities of non-renewable resources.

β€œBy using cheap and renewable sources there is a tremendous opportunity for biopolymer production to be made economic. At the same time, the problems of wastewater treatment and natural resource depletion are addressed.”

Of course, farm waste water has all sort of nasty things floating around it, and Pratt notes that complicates the process. He and his team of graduate students have been playing with the fermentation process to see if they can produce just the acid they need for making plastic. While I have no doubt that Pratt and students need showers when they’re done for the day, I’m really intrigued by the work they’re doing. Bioplastics so far come from food materials (corn comes to mind), but these scientists have figured out a way to use a material that nobody’s going to want for anything else…. well, except to generate energy, perhaps. The contributer of this news to Hugg noted another slight problem: no one will want to brush their teeth with a toothbrush made out of this…

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