03 March 2006

The Path to the Future Goes Through Japan and is Made of Cow Dung

You think I am joking, but I am not:

Sakae Shibusawa, an agriculture engineering professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, said his team has extracted 1.4 millilitres of a gasoline-like liquid fuel from every 100 grams of cow dung by applying high pressure and heat.

And that is not all. When I say the path to the future goes through Japan and is made of cow dung, I mean it:

In a separate experiment revealing another unusual business potential for cow dung, another group of researchers has extracted an aromatic ingredient of vanilla from cattle dung, said Miki Tsuruta, a Sekisui Chemical Co. spokeswoman.

Cow dung will power the car and make the air freshener to hang inside it. And we're just sitting here tossing cowpies.


Mark said...

The Straight Dope just ran a column about this, kinda poo-pooing the idea. My prayers are with anyone involved with this (or any other alt fuel project).

The Dean of Cincinnati said...

From where does the energy come to apply the pressure and heat? In other words, what sort of fuel must be spent to turn dung into fuel?

Michelle Fry said...

Interesting comment from the dean and I'm curious about that as well. I am delighted at any rate that oil alternatives are getting attention.

WestEnder said...

That is, as my high school math teacher Mr. Plummer used to say, the "correct question."

I don't think we'll get the details since the research firm wants to maintain intellectual property over its technology. It may not even matter at this point because this research only proves that it can be done. Whether this is actually the best way to do it is another matter, and future research can improve on efficiency and recovery.

It's also worth noting that human and animal waste has been used as cooking fuel in India for centuries.

I'm not a poopologist, but I don't think there's anything combustible in dung besides methane, so I'm guessing that the Japanese just figured out a way to turn methane into a larger hydrocarbon, like octane, and that's why they called it "gasoline like."

The Dean's question is also relevant to solar energy technology. Right now solar panels require a lot of energy to manufacture and their recovery is very low. Hopefully that will change in the years to come.

I could go on, but I have to go to the bathroom.