Posted at 02:05 PM ET, 08/31/2011

Panda waste may make for better biofuels


Ten-year-old Mei Xiang feasts on bamboo at the National Zoo. (RICKY CARIOTI - THE WASHINGTON POST)
Waste left behind by two bamboo-loving giant pandas in the Memphis Zoo may offer a new way to create alternative energy sources, Live Science reports.

When researchers at Mississippi State University examined the pandas’ waste, they found bacteria inside that can break down tough cell walls in plants and make them into sugars, which can then become biofuels.

Adult pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively, consuming 24 of 40 pounds of it each day, according to Forbes.com.

Initial work suggests that the bacteria is at least as efficient at digestion as the bacteria found in wood-chomping termites, whose digestive system can break down woody biomass for biofuel production.

The researchers are now trying to figure out which bacteria are better at converting bamboo into sugars. But as Forbes points out, finding the bacteria is only one of many steps in making money from biofuels, an endeavor that has prove tougher than initially thought.

The United States’ goal is to increase renewable fuels used for transportation from eight million gallons in 2008 to 36 million gallons in 2022. 

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