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THIS MONTH'S FEATURE ARTICLE
Engineers will be called upon to find solutions for the challenges the world will face in the 21st century. These articles highlight the diversity of the work which continues in the search for those solutions.

Researchers Study Upcycling Manure Into Paper Products
May 2018

It’s likely not the first thing you think of when you see elephant dung, but this material turns out to be an excellent source of cellulose for paper manufacturing in countries where trees are scarce, scientists report. And in regions with plenty of farm animals such as cows, upcycling manure into paper products could be a cheap and environmentally sound method to get rid of this pervasive agricultural waste.


Paper (top) can be made from cellulose derived from elephant manure (bottom). Credit: Kathrin Weiland.

The researchers presented their results, “Cellulose Nanopapers from Elephant Manure,” recently at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The idea for the project germinated on Crete, where Alexander Bismarck, Ph.D., noticed goats munching on summer-dry grass in the small village where he was vacationing. “I realized what comes out in the end is partially digested plant matter, so there must be cellulose in there,” he recalls.

“Animals eat low-grade biomass containing cellulose, chew it and expose it to enzymes and acid in their stomach, and then produce manure. Depending on the animal, up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible,” Dr. Bismarck says. So, much less energy and fewer chemical treatments should be needed to turn this partially digested material into cellulose nanofibers, relative to starting with raw wood, he conjectured.

After working with goat manure, Dr. Bismarck, who is at the University of Vienna, Austria, his postdoc Andreas Mautner, Ph.D., and graduate students Nurul Ain Kamal and Kathrin Weiland moved on to dung from horses, cows and eventually elephants. The supply of raw material is substantial: Parks in Africa that are home to hundreds of elephants produce tons of dung every day, and enormous cattle farms in the U.S. and Europe yield mountains of manure, according to Dr. Mautner.

The researchers treat the manure with a sodium hydroxide solution. This partially removes lignin — which can be used later as a fertilizer or fuel — as well as other impurities, including proteins and dead cells. To fully remove lignin and to produce white pulp for making paper, the material has to be bleached with sodium hypochlorite. The purified cellulose requires little if any grinding to break it down into nanofibers in preparation for use in paper, in contrast to conventional methods.

“You need a lot of energy to grind wood down to make nanocellulose,” Dr. Mautner says. But with manure as a starting material, “you can reduce the number of steps you need to perform, simply because the animal already chewed the plant and attacked it with acid and enzymes. You inexpensively produce a nanocellulose that has the same or even better properties than nanocellulose from wood, with lower energy and chemical consumption,” he says.

The dung-derived nanopaper could be used in many applications, including as reinforcement for polymer composites or filters that can clean wastewater before it’s discharged into the environment, Dr. Bismarck says. His team is working with an industrial consortium to further explore these possibilities. The nanopaper could also be used to write on, he says.

The researchers are also investigating whether the process can be made even more sustainable, by first producing biogas from manure and then extracting cellulose fibers from the residue. Biogas, which is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, can then be used as a fuel for generating electricity or heat.

The work was supported by the Austrian Academic Exchange Service, the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa, Europe 2020, the Ministry of Education Malaysia, the University of Vienna and the Vienna Zoo.

Article reprinted from materials provided by the American Chemical Society (ACS). ##



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Researchers Study Upcycling Manure Into Paper Products
May 2018

It’s likely not the first thing you think of when you see elephant dung, but this material turns out to be an excellent source of cellulose for paper manufacturing…

‘Fog Harp’ Increases Collection Capacity For Clean Water
April 2018

Installing giant nets along hillsides and mountaintops to catch water out of thin air sounds more like folly than science.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Visits Jefferson Lab
March 2018

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on February 21st visited the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab)…

Engineers Week 2018
February 2018

Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), Engineers Week, one of the oldest of America’s professional outreach efforts, celebrates its 67th anniversary in 2018.

Findings Suggest Authentic Research Programs Keep Students In Science
January 2018

Over the last nine years, more than 8,800 bacteria-infecting viruses have been discovered by students exploring scientific research for the first time – most during their first year of college.

Cricket Media and IEEE Team Up To Launch TryEngineering Together™
December 2017

As part of the global commitment to develop a robust STEM workforce for the future, Cricket Media, Inc. and IEEE

Poplar Trees Clean Up Superfund Sites With Help From Probiotics
November 2017

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) and several small companies have conducted the first large-scale experiment on a Superfund site using poplar trees fortified with a probiotic…

Center For Innovative Technology Awarded $4.8 Million To Enhance Smart Cities
October 2017

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently announced a $4.8 million contract award to the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) of Herndon, Virginia…

VCU Engineering’s Medicines for All Institute Awarded $25 Million
September 2017

The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Engineering has been awarded a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Medicines for All Institute and to fund the institute’s work on a wide range of essential global health treatments.

Torc Self-Driving Car Welcomed Home From Cross-Country Trip
August 2017

After driving itself through 20 states on its maiden cross-country road trip, the Torc self-driving car recently gave a test ride to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson as they welcomed it home.

Retrofit Project in Waynesboro Brings City to Life
July 2017

To the naked eye, the detention basin that stretched across 10-acres in the City of Waynesboro didn’t look like much other than a large grassed field. However, to the stormwater specialists at Timmons Group and City staff, the underutilized basin was seen as the perfect opportunity to construct a thriving new wetland ecosystem.

2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit Announced
June 2017

The third Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS), jointly organized by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), and the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), will be held July 18-20, 2017…


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