Car fuel from volcanic rock and chicken poop?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Corn is a great source for biofuels… and corn on the cob!

When I’m in the car with my mom, it’s not uncommon to drive by a gas station and hear her say, “What?! They raised the price of gas again?” Since gas is a limited resource, the price goes up as supply gets low. Eventually we will run out, which is why more research is focused on developing biofuels – fuels made from plants like corn, potatoes, and rice. Of course, we need a lot of these crops to keep up with the demand, so researchers from the University of Cambridge created a material that will help them grow faster.

The researchers made an organic fertilizer – biofertilizer – out of natural waste (like chicken poop!) and a volcanic rock called zeolite. It seems like a weird choice, but since the rock has many holes, it’s great for holding water. For example, you know how there is that watery dew on grass in the morning? Well, zeolite can hold that moisture inside of the holes, then release it during the hottest part of the day! It’s almost like a rock sweating steam. When you combine that with organic waste, there is plenty of water and nutrients for plants to grow! Don’t believe me? The set of crops planted in specially fertilized soil grew twice as large as those that sprouted from regular garden soil.

Not only does this biofertilizer increase the size of plants used in biofuels, its natural materials are also not too harmful to the environment. “This is a whole new approach to plant nutrition,” says Dr. Peter Leggo who developed the material. “Previously, you’d douse crops with chemicals, and it’s caused a huge reduction [of tiny organisms in the soil]… The material we’ve developed takes less energy to produce, improves soil structure, and enables you to grow crops on almost any type of soil.”

This biofertilizer is so good at holding water, the researchers are sure they can even grow crops in the searing-hot desert. I bet the thirsty plants will be happy to hear that!

Featured image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson from Wikipedia. Corn image courtesy of Vmcreddy from Wikipedia.