Eat shit and die

Paul Raven @ 17-06-2011

I know it’s all over the place already, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to use this headline. So, um, yeah: Japanese nutritional scientist makes artificial meat from sewage [via MeFi]. I’d rather wait for vat-grown tankmeat, myself, but I guess the ol’ Soylent Brown would look pretty appealing after a few days of poverty-driven starvation…

Energy independence for sewage-eating robot

Paul Raven @ 22-07-2010

This story’s all over the place, at venues as diverse as Hack-A-Day and Mike Anissimov’s blog… and with good reason. Here’s the lede from PhysOrg:

UK researchers have developed an autonomous robot with an artificial gut that enables it to fuel itself by eating and excreting. The robot is the first bot powered by biomass to be demonstrated operating without assistance for several days. Being self-sustaining would enable robots of the future to function unaided for long periods.

Yup, you read that right – this machine eats a kind of organic slurry, digests the nutrients in it and then craps out the waste. Not quite so elegant (or do I mean sinister?) as the proposed rat-eating household bot we mentioned a while back, eh?

Joking aside, this is quite a big deal – energy-autonomous machines could do all sorts of amazing things, and some scary ones too. It also stirs up the same arguments about “artificial life” as the Venter announcement, albeit coming from a very different angle: if I remember my GCSE biology right, eating and excreting are two pillars of the scientific definition of biological life, and there’s a machine that does both as well as being capable of independent movement. Interesting times, people, interesting times.

Speaking of sewage and energy, we could probably be getting some of our household wattage from human waste, and there’s a pilot scheme for biomethane recapture from sewage here in the UK at the moment. But gas is tricky and dangerous to store and pipe – why not cut out the middle man and just get the energy out of the sewage directly? To be truthful, there’s still a middle man… billions of them, in fact. Apparently certain nanoparticle coatings applied to graphite anodes in sewage tanks encourage certain bacteria to proliferate, eating sewage and releasing electrons all the while. Your biowaste gets cleaned up, and you produce electricty at the same time! Sounds almost too good to be true… but they’ve got it working in a lab environment, so you never know.

UK houses to be powered by poo

Paul Raven @ 21-04-2010

INHABITAT reports that a pilot scheme in Oxfordshire will see 130 homes supplied with biomethane derived from human fecal matter in sewage. Personally I think this is a great idea… but if we’re going to use shit to heat our homes, maybe we should try to find a way of harnessing the foetid power of political manifestos and campaign promises.

The new alchemy: turning sewage into gold

Paul Raven @ 30-01-2009

There’s an old saying in the north of the UK – “where there’s muck, there’s brass”. So here’s a modern Japanese re-spin on it: where there’s sewage, there’s gold.

The sewage in question is from Nagano Prefecture’s Suwa Basin, a region where a lot of machining factories and metal-plating outfits are located, and apparently the resulting sludge has a higher concentration of gold than high-grade ore. Ker-ching!