Is Poop Flammable? Does Human Waste Burn?
Poop is not exactly the most pleasant topic in the world, but we’ve received many questions regarding its flammability. So if you’re raring to know if poop burns, then keep reading.
Poop is not exactly the best conversation starter over dinner. Most people are not appealed by the thought of it. It is human waste, and it should not be a topic for discussion, right?
But it turns out human waste is a very fascinating thing. In fact, many people have become curious if poop is flammable? Does it burn?
Here’s the short answer to that: poop is not flammable simply because 75% of it is made of water. But what about dried poop? Is there a way to turn our waste matter into energy?
Let’s find out.
What’s in poop?
We all know poop simply because everybody does it. But do you know what’s in poop?
According to Everyday Health, poop, also known as feces or human waste, comprises 75% water. The rest comprises good and bad bacteria, proteins, fiber, fats, and mucus.
Basically, we absorb food through our digestive system. But not everything we eat gets absorbed. Some of these pass through the small intestine and then to the large intestine, collecting as poop, which the body needs to excrete at some point.
Is poop flammable?
Before answering this question, let’s head back to the fact that poop is 75% moisture while the rest is a combination of dead and live bacteria, along with other substances like cellulose, carbohydrates, protein, and fats. A poop may look like solid matter, but it’s actually composed of more water.
Moisture is an important factor when it comes to flammability. Given that poop or human waste is made up of a lot of moisture and less solid matter, then it is not flammable. You can attempt to light up fresh poop, but it won’t burn.
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What about dried poop?
Interestingly, dried poop is flammable and is even used as fuel in many parts of the world. Sun-dried poop, both coming from humans and animals, can be a source of energy. So yes, given the right conditions, dried human waste can be flammable.
How does poop produce energy?
Now, let’s talk about how poop can produce energy. I know it’s hard to imagine cooking food using dried human waste or animal dung, so it helps to understand what the process entails. And in case you haven’t read or heard, feces has become a renewable energy source in many parts of the world.
Korea: modern toilet turns poop into electricity
Let’s start with Korea, where a scientist developed a toilet that turns feces into power. Basically, you take a dump into this amazing toilet, and your poop gets pushed down an underground tank. Bacteria and microorganisms ferment your poop, producing methane, a form of fuel source.
This means that your poop could provide electricity. According to the scientist, Cho Jae-weon could charge an electric car and allow it to run for 1.2 kilometers. The idea was weird, but it perhaps became more acceptable when students got paid cryptocurrency for depositing their waste into the said toilet. They can use that digital money to buy coffee and other stuff around the campus. Now that’s one good way to reward someone for taking a dump regularly!
Kenya: Human waste turned into charcoal briquettes
Moving on, a publication by Stockholm Environment Institute cited a study where animal dung and human waste could potentially replace fuel-based energy. According to SEI, a researcher named Daniel Ddiba, initiated the study to help us reduce the impacts of climate change by using renewable sources of energy and power.
Related to that study, residents in Kenya were taught to use feces-made briquettes as a source of power fuel in their homes. The feces are first dried and burned in a kiln and then carbonized with sawdust. The resulting product is similar to charcoal briquettes. These allowed people to cook over a fire. Plus points, the fuel lasts for a long time and doesn’t even stink!
England: Poop and food wastes provide fuel for Bio-bus
Yes, we all know we need fuel at home, but can poop power other things too? Buses, for example?
Turns out it can! The methane in human waste proves to be a valuable source of renewable power. Human wastes produce methane, and this gas could provide fuel enough to run a 40-seater bus for 300 kilometers, as proven by the Bio-Bus that runs in England.
And yes, the fuel comes from treated sewage, consisting of food and human waste. Sure, that doesn’t sound so enticing, but according to the developers, biogas was first treated so that it comes up to par with natural gas. They call it clean energy, despite methane gas coming from filthy origins.
Well, these are just examples that prove human waste is not so wasteful after all. A lot of people, especially in places that don’t have access to electricity, know that they could use animal manure as fuel. In the same manner, but going through a more elaborate process, our solid wastes could also produce fuel and electricity.
Colorado: Poop powers city vehicles
The Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant in Colorado has found a way to turn 8 million gallons of human waste into renewable energy. This is made possible through anaerobic digestion, a process wherein organic matter is broken down into what is called biogas.
Biogas is upgraded to RNG or raw natural gas, which can be used for heating, electricity, and fuel needs. In fact, the same RNG powers a good number of city vehicles, including dump trucks, buses, and garbage trucks.
The process cleans up human poop and turns it into pipeline quality. In addition to it being cheap, renewable energy, it is also a safer way to produce energy as it reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, the city engineer said.
All of these methods of producing fuel and energy by burning poop sound promising. Since we are relying mostly on fossil fuels and biofuels (which by the way produce carbon dioxide, the primary driver for climate change), having a safer alternative like this can be good for our planet.
Unfortunately, producing methane also generates carbon dioxide, so hopefully, our experts would need to come up with an even safer fool-proof method of generating power without messing up our planet’s atmosphere.
Is it safe to burn poop?
Now that we have established the potential of burning poop to produce energy, the next concern would be about the safety of this process. Are there short-term and long-term effects of burning waste matter?
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, burning solid waste can pose a risk to human health and the environment.
When members of the armed forces are deployed to military bases abroad, they do not always have the right facilities to dispose of solid waste. Instead, they create burn pits where they incinerate all types of solid waste — from human feces to all types of trash.
The main concern with these burn pits is that they release smoke that contains pollutants like carbon monoxide, dioxin, and volatile organic compounds. Those who are near these burn pits or had long-term exposure to the smoke from these facilities may suffer from eye and skin irritation, rashes, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
To add, human poop contains a host of bacteria and microorganisms that could potentially put you at several health risks. This is especially true when burning poop while wet, as it tends to produce a lot of smoke while it dries due to fire.
You would have to make sure that the poop is properly dried out first before burning. This could take some time because poop is naturally high in moisture content. You have to make sure that it doesn’t get rained on. You may also try adding other substances to help dry poop faster, such as sawdust or alternative organic material.
Burning poop is commonly practiced among people living off-grid, but it is not healthy and could affect human health and the environment. There are other viable options for disposing of human waste, such as a composting toilet.
It is quite fascinating to know these interesting facts about human waste. Sure, we avoid this type of conversation as it is gross and disgusting, but we have to admit that poop does have a remarkable nature.
First, it is mostly liquid, so it is impossible to set it on fire, and in its fresh, wet form, poop is not flammable.
But properly dried poop is used as a source of fuel and energy in many parts of the world. With technology, we shouldn’t be surprised that poop becomes an acceptable source of renewable power in the future.