Fumiaki Taguchi, emeritus professor of Kitasato University in Tokyo, embarked on the project five years ago when he asked Ueno Zoo for a bucketful of one of their most popular residents' feces.
Taguchi reasoned bacteria inside the panda's belly must be pretty special to be able to digest tough bamboo leaves and shoots.
"If a panda can support such a big body by eating bamboo leaves, it's really different from other animals," Taguchi said. "There might not be any other living thing on the planet able to digest bamboo leaves or the skin of the shoots. They are made of such tough organic materials."
His research team then selected five micro-organisms among the some 270 they discovered in the dung, ones that were the most efficient at breaking down proteins and fats and ones that could reproduce easily even under high heat.
The team mixed the bacteria with 70 to 100 kilograms of raw garbage, such as vegetable stems, for 17 weeks in an industrial waste disposal machine.
The result: only three kilograms of waste remained, while the rest had turned to water and carbon dioxide, which is much greater than the 80 percent efficiency of most commercial disposal bacteria.
Taguchi said the company of which he is a director, H2Japan, hopes to create a hydrogen fuel cell and waste disposal unit in one to sell to food processing companies across Japan.
"For every one kilogram of waste, I can get about 100 liters of hydrogen," he said.
"It won't amount to much electricity, maybe enough to power the exit lamps in an entire building."
"In the next year, we want to see if we can improve this," he said.
Source: ABC News