Giant Pandas may be Key to Cellulosic Biofuels
Scientists are searching far and wide for ways to sever our dependency on fossil fuels, and that sometimes means looking in some pretty unusual places. The latest in odd biofuel research involves investigating bacteria found in giant panda feces that help break down cellulosic plant matter. The bacteria, once isolated, may be a key ingredient in the quest to perfect the cellulosic biofuel process.
Cellulosic biofuel is touted as one of the great hopes for the future of the biofuel industry. Using grasses, woodchips and agricultural waste instead of food products like corn and sugarcane is the promise that cellulosic biofuel holds. It does not compete with food production, as is a chief concern of biofuel opponents, and there is an added benefit of converting waste streams into usable energy.
At the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, researchers announced the unique discovery that giant panda feces indeed contains similar lignin-processing bacteria as found in termites and cattle. A giant panda’s diet in the wild consists of about 99 percent bamboo, digesting everything from the leaves and stems to the woody shoots. In fact, a giant panda can consume 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo in a single day.
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Ashli Brown, Ph.D. and colleagues collected and analyzed feces specimens of a pair of male and female pandas at the Memphis Zoo for over a year. They identified several varieties of digestive bacteria, including some that are strikingly similar to those found in termites, and perhaps even more efficient at breaking down cellulosic material. The scientists believe that panda gut bacteria could convert 95 percent of plant biomass into simple sugars capable of making ethanol and other biofuels. The bacteria could eliminate the need for the high heat, harsh acids, and high pressures currently required to make cellulosic biofuels.
“Who would have guessed that ‘panda poop’ might help solve one of the major hurdles to producing biofuels, which is optimizing the breakdown of the raw plant materials used to make the fuels?” says Brown. “We hope our research will help expand the use of biofuels in the future and help cut dependency on foreign oil. We also hope it will reinforce the importance of wildlife conservation.”
The research team is now in the process of identifying the most powerful of the bacteria found in the Panda feces. They believe that once the best bacteria are found, they could isolate the genes that produce the enzymes responsible for breaking down lignin and introduce them to yeast strains. The yeasts could then be grown on a commercial scale to provide large amounts of the enzyme to the biofuel industry.
Itronics successfully tests manganese recovery process
Itronics - a Nevada-based emerging cleantech materials growth company that manufacturers fertilisers and produces silver - has successfully tested two proprietary processes that recover manganese, with one process recovering manganese, potassium and zinc from paste produced by processing non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. The second recovers manganese via the company’s Rock Kleen Technology.
Manganese, one of the four most important industrial metals and widely used by the steel industry, has been designated by the US Federal Government as a "critical mineral." It is a major component of non-rechargeable alkaline batteries, one of the largest battery categories sold globally.
The use of manganese in EV batteries is increasing as EV battery technology is shifting to use of more nickel and manganese in battery formulations. But according to the US Department of Interior, there is no mine production of manganese in the United States. As such, Itronics is using its Rock Kleen Technology to test metal recoverability from mine tailings obtained from a former silver mine in western Nevada that has a high manganese content.
In a statement, Itronics says that its Rock Kleen process recovers silver, manganese, zinc, copper, lead and nickel. The company says that it has calculated – based on laboratory test results – that if a Rock Kleen tailings process is put into commercial production, the former mine site would become the only primary manganese producer in the United States.
Itronics adds that it has also tested non-rechargeable alkaline battery paste recovered by a large domestic battery recycling company to determine if it could use one of its hydrometallurgical processes to solubilize the manganese, potassium, and zinc contained in the paste. This testing was successful, and Itronics was able to produce material useable in two of its fertilisers, it says.
"We believe that the chemistry of the two recovery processes would lend itself to electrochemical recovery of the manganese, zinc, and other metals. At this time electrochemical recovery has been tested for zinc and copper,” says Dr John Whitney, Itronics president.
“Itronics has been reviewing procedures for electrochemical recovery of manganese and plans to move this technology forward when it is appropriate to do so and has acquired electro-winning equipment needed to do that.
"Because of the two described proprietary technologies, Itronics is positioned to become a domestic manganese producer on a large scale to satisfy domestic demand. The actual manganese products have not yet been defined, except for use in the Company's GOLD'n GRO Multi-Nutrient Fertilisers. However, the Company believes that it will be able to produce chemical manganese products as well as electrochemical products," he adds.
Itronics’ research and development plant is located in Reno, about 40 miles west of the Tesla giga-factory. Its planned cleantech materials campus, which will be located approximately 40 miles south of the Tesla factory, would be the location where the manganese products would be produced.
Panasonic is operating one of the world's largest EV battery factories at the Tesla location. However, Tesla and other companies have announced that EV battery technology is shifting to use of nickel-manganese batteries. Itronics is positioned and located to become a Nevada-0based supplier of manganese products for battery manufacturing as its manganese recovery technologies are advanced, the company states.
A long-term objective for Itronics is to become a leading producer of high purity metals, including the U.S. critical metals manganese and tin, using the Company's breakthrough hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and electrochemical technologies. ‘Additionally, Itronics is strategically positioned with its portfolio of "Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies" to help solve the recently declared emergency need for domestic production of Critical Minerals from materials located at mine sites,’ the statement continues.
The Company's growth forecast centers upon its 10-year business plan designed to integrate its Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies and to grow annual sales from $2 million in 2019, to $113 million in 2025.