How Much Energy Could We Generate By Burning All Our Poop?

Our energy crisis savior? Credit: Zamurovic Photography

No matter who you are or where you come from, you are most definitely interested in the slightly disgusting bodily functions of our flawed, weird, fascinating species. Fortunately, so is science, and a bit of mathematical rumination sometimes reveals some startling pieces of information.

We at IFLScience have already shown that peeing in the shower may help save the environment somewhat from exorbitant water waste. Continuing on this thread, is there anything we can do with our poop in order to help the environment? (No, not that.)

Sometimes, it’s used in composting, but what would happen if our poop was shipped off to a combustion engine and burned in order to produce energy? Man-made climate change is here and it’s messing everything up, from the natural world to the global economy. Would burning our own biological waste assist in alleviating this problem?

Let’s dive into the science of poop to find out – but it’d be best to hold your nose as we go.

What’s in your poop?

Feces, the semisolid metabolic waste product of the human digestive system, come in many forms, but on average, they contain mostly water (75 percent of the total volume). The rest is comprised of dead and living bacteria, protein, fiber, cellular linings, fats, salts, mucus released from the intestines, and some additional extras – perhaps paper still attached to the sweet you hastily unwrapped and consumed.

As you’ve probably guessed, burning water is somewhat tricky, and any poop needed to be ignited needs to have this water removed. In order to conserve energy, let’s assume that it is sun-dried, at no additional energy cost.

The average human adult produces anywhere between 100 and 250 grams (0.22 and 0.55 pounds) of fecal matter per day. Children produce less per day, but it’s not clear what the average is, so for the general human average, we’ll take the lowest number, 100 grams, for our calculations. This means that 25 grams (0.055 pounds) of each poop is solid matter – the stuff we will eventually be burning.


Don't breathe this. Credit: fluke samed/Shutterstock

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