Livestock dung has now been found to be a beneficial component in a new, long lasting cellulosic material. Typically we know manure to be used in fertilizer for farms and plants, as well as a new developed source for biogas in green energy applications. But now, a study conducted by scientists throughout universities in Bristol and Edinburgh, and the Scotland Rural College (SRUC) have found a new form of usage for manure. Upon reviewing research studies regarding manure’s main properties and benefactors in development, they discovered a new source – recycled ruminant waste. 

There have been various applications of manure-derived resources within the development of compostable materials such as plastics, recycled card and paper, and concrete. Now going deeper, they found it can also be used for the extraction of nanocellulose, the material of the future. Nanocellulose is a light in weight, solid substance derived from plants, specifically wood pulp. It is electrically conductive, highly absorbent, stronger than steel, and the most abundant polymer on Earth in raw form. If nanocellulose can be extracted from manure, it can be prospected to create a bio-based and biodegradable material that can be applied to existing sustainable materials. 

Through this study, there currently is a conflict, or tradeoff, between the performance of the combined material and the amount of processing required to achieve the wanted materials. 

"In this study we have looked at assessing current manufacturing processes and performance of sustainable composites with lignin-based reinforcements extracted essentially from ruminant waste. Those composites can also be made by using various types of recycled plastics, together with different classes of reclaimed natural fibers. This is very promising for future sustainable materials applications in the extraction of nanocellulose from manure,” stated Bristols’ Aerospace Engineer Professor, Fabrizio Scarpa.

The recent increase in necessity for sustainable materials has this research becoming more popular in the world of science and production. According to the team, their research can soon be taken into the lab and production facilities for implementation into mechanical, electrical, and supply chain products and energy sources. When combined with other materials such as polymers, metals and ceramics, nanocellulose has a huge potential for success in antibacterial agents, antioxidant substances, electromagnetic devices, and water absorbent treatments. There is wide versatility in this new found material and can hopefully bring a new alternative to the world of sustainability. 

The team’s full report is published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.