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Panda poo power - energy, recycling and souvenirs

Published 03rd October 2009 - 5 comments - 4938 views -

The lastest innovation in reduction of kitchen waste is absolutely natural, unfortunately maybe too much. It couldn`t be more bio, because it comes from….a panda poo.

Tokyo researchers received this year’s Ig Nobel Biology Prize for demonstrating the method to reduce kitchen waste by more than 90% thanks to bacteria derived from Giant Panda excrement.  

Before attending the ceremony at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theater, Professor Fumiaki Taguchi said, "Honestly, I was surprised because I thought it was not that scientifically valuable research." The annual Ig Nobel Prizes are meant to honor scientific achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think,” according to the founders at science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

Taguchi, who shares the prize with fellow researchers Song Guofu and Zhang Guanglei (both from the Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences), began the project in 1998. Before that, in 2003, he wanted to use panda dung to create electricity.

Now, instead of that, the scientists suspected the feces must contain bacteria capable of breaking down even the hardiest of foods because of the bear’s vast consumption of bamboo.

Found in few areas in mainland China, the fluffy Giant Panda has a diet of 99% bamboo. The rare and exotic animal, which can weigh around 150 kilograms without to be called fat, feeds on 25 varieties of bamboo. It consumes as much as 9 to 14 kg per day.

After identifying some 270 different microorganisms in its dung obtained from Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, the researchers isolated 5 types of bacteria. They were the most efficient at breaking down proteins and fats and that could reproduce easily even under high heat.

In one experiment, the pros mixed the bacteria with 70 to 100 kilograms of raw garbage, including vegetable stems, potatoes (raw and fried) and fish remains, and placed it in an industrial waste disposal machine. 17 weeks later, only 3 kilograms of waste remained. The rest had turned to water and CO2. With a digestive rate of up to 96%, the bacteria from animals excrement is visibly more effective than most commercial disposal bacteria, which has a digestive rate of around 80%.

As mentioned, in 2003, Taguchi claimed it was possible to gain about 100 liters of hydrogen gas for each kilogram of waste treated with panda poo. At the time, he was exploring the possibility of integrating a hydrogen fuel cell into a waste disposal unit to sell to food processing companies in Japan.

Taguchi is not the first Japanese scientist to receive an Ig Nobel Prize for excrement-themed research. In 2007, researcher Mayu Yamamoto won the chemistry prize for developing a method for extracting vanillin, an ingredient in vanilla fragrance and flavoring, from cow dung. Taguchi is 13th Japanese to receive an Ig Nobel Prize since the awards were established in 1991.

But that`s not all. In 2006 a Thai Chiang Mai Zoo has came up with a use for the vast piles of panda dung they collect. They started making paper out of it, and selling it as souvenirs. Zookeepers have taken a traditional method of making paper from mulberry trees, and used it to convert the poop into paper. “We know that any kind of pulp can be used to make paper, so we have applied the 2,000-year techniques of making paper from mulberry tree in this rural neighbourhood to bamboo pulp from panda dung,” the zoo's Prasertsak Buntrakoonpoontawee explained. The pandas provide up to 20 kilograms of the precious souvenirs a day, enough to keep everyone happy, informed the Bangkok Post newspaper. The zoo was turning the dung-paper into greetings cards, fans and bookmarks, selling around 300,000 baht ($9,000 US) worth of goods for the 2006.

In 2007 China's Sichuan Province has also developed a dung-for-profit scheme that makes souvenirs from the animal's waste in their Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base. " The idea of making the souvenirs were inspired by the 17th International Giant Panda Annual Meeting held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, last November," explained Jing Shimin, assistant to the director of the base. It was at the meeting that researchers from the Base learned that the Chiang Mai Zoo made use of the droppings of its two pandas to make picture frames and postcards and their sales were brisk.

So, now you can choose between bookmarks to Olympic-themed statues of the animals made especially by the Breeding center, which houses about 40 bamboo-fed pandas that produce almost a ton of dung a day. As AP wrote back then, “Nothing says "I love you" like a photo frame made from panda poop”.

The giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family and among the world’s most threatened animals. It is universally loved, and has a special significance for WWF as it has been the organization's logo since 1961, the year WWF was founded.

World’s scientists and conservationists met in 1961 to plan how to publicize the threat to wildlife and wild places and to raise funds to support conservation projects. Then they decided to launch the WWF, so there was a need of a symbol. At the time Chi Chi, the only giant panda in the Western world, had won the hearts of all that saw her at the London Zoo in the UK. She was rare, like her wild panda cousins in China, and her form and color were the ideal basis for an attractive symbol.

Scottish naturalist Gerald Watterson made some first sketches, from which Sir Peter Scott, world-renowned wildlife conservationist and painter, designed the WWF’s giant panda logo. The design of the logo has evolved over the decades, but till today it remains an integral part of WWF’s unmistakable symbol. For years, the giant panda has been thought of by many Chinese as an unofficial national symbol, too. Today, WWF’s trademark is recognized as a universal symbol for the conservation movement itself.

Category: Alternative Energies, Animal Kingdom, | Tags: panda, poo, zoo, energy, electricity, kitchen waste, recycling, wwf, bio producs, souveniers,


Pavel on 04th October 2009:

This is very interesting to learn. Looking closely into the technologies, social practices, business models which just lay around us could possibly offer many unexpected solutions to environmental problems currently faced. Nature itself is the source of many. But people’s traditions and practices from the past are not less useful - if one is to re-discover them. I remember the woolen reusable shopping net which my granmother kept in her pocket some 20 - 30 years ago. She also strictly reused any plastic bags, jars, bottles or other packaging. Cooked her own food, and preserved as much as she could. How uncool, obsolete, ‘socialistic’ did all these seem in the decades of abundance, consumption and packaging to follow. And how hard it is for countries like Bulgaria to put in place new models of recycling, reusing, waste collection today. Perhaps we need a Nobel prize for discovering what we were too quick to forget.

Pavlina on 25th October 2009:

Very interesting. And the pandas are sooooo cute ! I lova them ! It’s great to see someone working for the environment smile

Paul Montariol on 17th November 2009:

I learned something and I am very happy! It is rare to have both.

Lucy Setian on 17th November 2009:

smile Happy to hear that. I have read a lot and learned a lot while being here…

Paul Montariol on 17th November 2009:

You can continue!
It is good for all us!

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