DENVER (CBS4) – The waste of one of the world’s most endangered animals may hold the key to producing biofuels. The potency of the discovery had scientists talking about it at a major chemistry conference in Denver on Monday.

CBS4’s Kathy Walsh was at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society for all the fuss about panda feces. It turns out panda droppings could solve one of the major hurdles to producing biofuels.

They are adorable and endangered. Every giant panda birth is a worldwide wonder.

“It’s probably the most pleasant fecal material to actually work with,” Dr. Ashli Brown said.

Brown and grad student Candace Williams discovered something amazing in panda excrement. They analyzed the fresh feces of bamboo-eating pandas at the Memphis Zoo. They found microbes in panda droppings break down super-tough plant materials — grasses, corn stalks and wood chips.

“Once you have the bacteria you can grow them outside of the intestinal track of the panda,” Brown said.

Eventually the scientists want to try engineering the digestive enzymes on a large scale so plant waste could be used to make biofuels, instead of relying on food crops like corn.

“Being able to produce a biofuel from two waste products is pretty incredible,” Williams said.

Recycling animal feces is not a new phenomenon. Statues have been made from panda poop and there are elephant dung paper products and compost.

At the Denver Zoo they’re hoping to use thousands of pounds of animal waste with thousands of pounds of human garbage to power 20 percent of their energy needs. It’s called gasification. A special machine will turn the trash and poop into power.

“There is a future in feces. As you know a lot of animals produce a lot of waste and taking that resource and putting it in something to create a clean renewable energy is an exciting process,” Jennifer Hale with the Denver Zoo said.

The beauty of panda waste is that it could make biofuels cheaper to produce. That could expand their use and help cut dependency on foreign oil. Commercial production is probably years away.

Comments (53)
  1. JH-M says:

    The Forbes article is much more informative,

    Bamboo is the toughest plant material, so it is very good science to figure out how natural organism are able to digest it. As these microbial pathways come to be understood, researchers then figure out how to engineer these microbes so that the are optimal for industrial processes or it may even be possible to splice specific genes that code for these capabilities into other host organisms such as E Coli.

    The point of this research is to figure out how to crack cellulose to release surgars. These surgars in turn can be made into aviation fuel, diesel, gasoline or virtually any chemical derived from petroleum, and of course ethanol. There are current production that accomplish this at scale and massive commercial scale-up is happening around the globe.

    This stuff is real. While many critics point to the expense of biofuels, about $2/gal at scale, the point is not really to compete on price with petroleum fuels. Rather most developers are focused on producing high quality chemicals that can be used in a wide variety of industries and, sourcing a variety of biomass feedstock, to deliver greater price stability than crude. For example, there are specialty markets supporting the chemical, pharmacuetical and food industries that currently pay as much as $5/gal or more. These are very attractive markets for this emerging industry that can compete at a fraction of the cost.

    Regarding the issue of soil depletion, biochemicals can support the full cycle of agriculture. Only a fraction of biomass is converted into energy. There is co-production of residues such as distiller grain from ethanol production. These residues can be and are fed to livestock and be returned to the soil as fertilizer. Moreover, the industry is developing ways to produce ammonia and nitrogen. Current agriculture depends heavily on fertilzers derived from petroleum, not exactly a sustainable model for ag. Biochemicals will be able to synthesize fertilizers from biomass just as well as it is done from petroleum.

    The emerging biofuel and biochemical industry is very fast moving. It is hard to keep up with all the advances that pop up virtually every day. Watch the online journal, Analyses of what biofuels can and cannot do quickly become outdated. The industry as I’ve observed is very conscious of all the criticisms and concerns that are voice. These are simply taken as challenges, great opportunities for scientists and entreprenuers to deliver new and better solutions. For example, on hears of much hand wringing over “fuel vs. food.” Economically, biofuel producers do not want to be tied to corn and sugar cane. They want much creaper sources of feedstock such as forest residue, municiple solid waste, switchgrass and a whole host of other source, many of which can be grown in land that does not support conventional agriculture. Biofuel demand is creating its own supply, and has been for quite some time. For example, if it was not for corn-based ethanol about half the corn crop would not be grown. The agricultural land would simply be taken out of production because the profit margin on corn is brutally thin. Ethanol creates the demand for its own supply. In years when the corn harvest is smaller than usual, it is easy to point a finger at ethanol. But even if there was no ethanol ever produced on the planet, there would have been the same shortage that year and the prices would have gone up just the same. In terms of food demand, it is probably better that ethanol sustains a larger supply base so that food producers have a larger crop to bid on. Corn as food is more valuable than corn as ethanol feedstock. So in times of scarcity, it is more likely that food demand will drive up the price more than ethanol demand. In economic terms, food demand is relatively inelastic. Even so, the trend is for biofuel producers to move toward cheaper non-food biomass. And this is precisely why figuring out just how pandas can possibly digest something at hard as bamboo is such an important question.

    Seriously, did any of the idiots above really think that pandas themselves would be the source of biomass?

  2. Dennis says:

    Foolish News persons! Lets get all excited about about another green miracle!
    Just give our green hustlers a few million dollars and we will save the planet!

  3. Regulas says:

    Lord knows we have a abundance of Pandas to rescue the world. Let me guess, Federal grant money. Yes, these must be the same idiots who keep telling us the lie of man made global warming.

  4. JeddMcHead says:

    Excellent! Nothing like spending grant money on studying the poop of an endangered species to solve our dwindling energy reserves.

    Actually, our energy reserves aren’t “dwindling” but my patience with tree-hugging alarmists is. How about we study the combustability of eco-protesting-smelly-hippy-people? I’ll bet they’d smolder like a tire-fire!

  5. smartguy says:

    Wouldn’t the bacteria from a goat’s stomach do the same thing? They eat pretty much anything and there are a lot more goats around than pandas!

    1. Michelle Barrett says:

      Or koalas? Or termites? There were talking about termite digestive bacteria back in 2008 as the “wonder” that would lead to cellulose-based ethanol:

  6. Jack Scat says:

    Hey mom I’m a scientist!

  7. Htos1 says:

    That’s it,just lose sight of the bigger picture:

    Carbon is 84% of petroleum and makes 80% of all our energy.

    The UN will soon declare CO2 a poison.

    The control and taxing of carbon will give the elected ruling class more power than anything since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 AD.

    It is just that simple.

    1. JeddMcHead says:

      a) the UN can kiss our collective butts and b) CO2 is a BYPRODUCT of “global warming”, not the cause of it (not that you’re implying otherwise, I’m just saying).

  8. Kent West says:

    Easy to “poo-poo” this story, but they might have something. They are saying the bacteria are the key, not the poo itself. Read the whole article before leaving a comment.

  9. tim says:

    Why dont they just grow hemp and use it as a pertanent biofuel…why not polically incorrectness has blinded theses lost souls

  10. The Bruce says:

    Why just go for the panda’s poop when you can throw the entire panda into the wood-chipper and utilize the whole thing?

    Wait, that would be bad, wouldn’t it? I guess it would.

  11. qwerty says:

    Feed a panda to a polar bear and use the polar bear’s poop.

  12. JJ1970JJ says:

    I love pandas, they look delicious!

  13. Eric says:

    I smell an environmentalist scam to lie/force us into spending millions upon millions to save pandas- all the more since a lead researcher on them said it’d be best if we let them die off since they were an evolutionary dead-end.

  14. TeeDee says:

    What a crock!!!!

  15. MadCharles says:

    Perhaps the American Chemical Society should consider their own poop for bio-fuel. Surely it must contain a magical chemical mix unknown to earthlings.

  16. RegulateThis says:

    We already have machines that “turn trash and poop into power”. They’re called VOTING MACHINES!

    1. Mark DeNio says:

      Comment of the day!

  17. Freedom_Isnt_Free says:

    This is the biggest load of BS I’ve read in eons! It really isn’t worth commenting except it’s so absurd I had to jave my say.

  18. Gene says:

    If you take all the waste cellulose and convert it to fuel you will deplete the soil of its nutrients. Guess what? Then you need to use artificial fertilizers to grow your food. This means more petro products, which we all know is a bad, bad thing. A recent Scientific American issue dealt with this problem and pretty much shelved the idea of bio-fuels as impractical for a variety of reasons.

  19. Amy says:

    This is just a money-grab, there is no fuel crisis. New oil reserves have been found and calculated to last us another 700 years:

    1. JeddMcHead says:

      And if we DO run out of oil, coal, etc., we can just squeaze the oil from the greasy tree-hugging protestors (you could probably get a barrel or two per).

  20. Sam says:

    Every living thing has it uses to mankind, we only have to be smart enough to find it’s use.

    1. Chet Acetone says:

      Yes. I’m thankful Sam Adams makes a great beer.

  21. James says:

    Parasites in the gut of termites also break down cellulose… but termites are not rare nor endangered, which makes them more available to researchers.

  22. Rod Anders says:

    I always knew Al Gore was full of sh$t … this proves it !

  23. Tony Moschetti says:

    Man, if only the feces coming from this administration has any value we’d soon be the world’s leader, AGAIN! Probably the feces from Obama could fuel half the cars on the roads today. Add Biden’s feces, and the energy crisis is solved.

  24. Bubba says:

    Grimoire… obviously we can’t read between the lines like the people above. Obviously what they are really saying is that they have to chop the pandas into little bits for this to work… If it contains bits of real panda then you know it’s good!

  25. FreedomScribe says:

    Wow! Millions of Obama stimulus dollars to discover that plant eating animal manure (horses, cows, sheep, goats. chickens, rabbits, etc., etc. ) has methane gas and helps make great compost. After November 2012, how will we ever function as a society without them?

    1. Ed in Missouri says:

      This is a plan to take the animals out of the equation and take wood waste and high plant fiber materials and treat them with the bacteria from the droppings. The idea of following animals around and picking up manure or keeping the animals confined isn’t needed.

    2. Kip Noxzema says:

      How interesting when the Environmental Whackos lied about cows causing catastrophic environmental damage by…flatulence.

      Yes, let’s have all those Whackos follow pandas around all day. It’ll keep them busy while the rest of the Libs cry from our successful 2012 campaign.

  26. Grimoire says:

    Are you people incapable of reading?

    They said they will grow the bacteria in a processing plant. The panda is just where the bacteria was discovered. You don’t need the panda to make more. You people are complete idiots. Learn to read above a 1st grade level, please.

    1. Exasperated says:

      Yes. They are incapable of reading. That’s why all they can do is yell about Obama.

      1. Barry L. Friedberg, M.D. says:

        Silly you. Don’t you know it’s Bush’s fault?

      2. Dustin Isaacs says:

        Given that i “did” read the article I have to say to you that Its our president that relys on a teleprompter. We dont yeall about Obama for $h!ts and giggles. Were as obligated to our opinion as you goons were for yelling at Bush. Ok whatever, “its all Bush’s fault”. I’ve heard this for years! No near the end of Obamas first term we are in an even deeper hole. Wake up and smell the roses you all. That is if you can get past the smell of the $h!t

    2. DrRob says:

      Good point. This fact were actually discovered way back in the Dung Dynasty.

      Also remember that if we were all as smart as you, then we would all be average.

  27. Vince says:

    This story was poorly written. The true discovery here is that bacteria present in the panda feces can break down cellulose, which cannot currently be used as a portable fuel source. We don’t need the pandas, we just need the microbes in their feces, which can be grown commercially, to turn straw, weeds, wood chips, and agricultural waste into alcohol or biodiesel to fuel our cars.

    1. Kip Noxzema says:

      Why, sure. We’ll spend more dollars and more oil/coal/nuclear plant fuel in making the stuff than what we end up getting.

      We actually end up with a net LOSS.

      Just like the ethanol scam.

  28. chuck in st paul says:

    Awww, it’s really simple ya know. We just put those fart collectors on all the cows and we’ll have way more than enough fuel.

    1. Brian D. says:

      Maybe put a fart collector on Barney “The Ripper” Frank.

  29. Ronald F. Adams Jr. says:

    How many miles per pound of Panda Poop?

  30. Terry Knows Moore says:

    My Lord these fools keep getting more and more like the idiots who voted for Obama…Electric cars..lets see, where doe the fuel come from to power these clown cars…From Coal…Obama spent 40 billion on green teck…that created 11 jobs and the rest of the money went to his buddies in the green scam that give it back to Obamas re-election.

  31. jake49 says:

    You have got to be shiite’ing me

  32. Anon says:

    Because there are SOOOOO many panda’s they’d be able to fuel the world’s energy need.

    1. Mike D says:

      The solution is SOOOOO obvious. Clone the panda’s, place them into a tiny rusty cage, force feed them with hydroponic bamboo, insert rectal tubes and collect your fuel. Simple.

    2. Wasabi Peanut says:

      “Once you have the bacteria you can grow them outside of the intestinal track of the panda,” Brown said.

      Its called reading BEFORE you comment, you should try it.

      1. Dustin Isaacs says:

        Republican campaign- “NOW” we can!

  33. Hunter says:

    How is this a solution to the oil crisis?… Pandas are infinitely more endangered than oil is scarce

    1. chuck in st paul says:

      There is no ‘oil crises’. It’s a phony manufactured scare story. There is enough oil, gas, and coal to run things for hundreds of years even taking growth into consideration. When you add nukes to the mix it works out to around a thousand years of ‘fuel’.

      I think we can come up with an economical and viable alternative in that amount of time.

      1. Htos1 says:

        See my post above

    2. Russ Felix says:

      This type of story galls me. Reserchers have spent millions trying to get the bacteria from the gut of termites to make biofuel. Not that it wasn’t an idea worth researching but after spending millions getting no where we have yet another one that wants to try the same thing again. And with Panda Bears isn’t that touchy-feely? The real problem is economy of scale. Bacterial cultures don’t have this. How big a vat would it take to culture enough bacteria to produce a stream of biofuel at the rate of 1000 usg per hour? The answer is as big as a lake. The analogy is appropriate because there are petroleum wells that esentially tap into underground lakes of oil. In the oil industry 1000 gal/hour is not a big number.

    3. mark says:

      To save fuel use this “green” product Mileage Maxx found @ and order online

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