Lube Components from Human Waste?

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The lubricants industry has a well-established practice of rerefining waste oils into base stocks that are used to make new lubes. Now a South African start-up company is leading an effort to develop a process that will make lubricants from human waste.

The BioCycle, the start-up company, uses larvae of black soldier flies to quickly consume feces and convert it to fatty acids that could be used to make base stocks.

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The larvae of Hermetia Illucens, more commonly known as black soldier fly larvae, are comprised basically of protein and lipids, BioCycle Director for Alternative Nutrient Protein Streams Marc Lewis told Lube Report in an email. The lipid content of larvae is approximately 12 percent [and includes] a variety of complex fatty acids – primarily lauric, oleic and linoleic.He added that the company is still deep in to our development stage and will be there for some time, so we cant really expand on the actual application just yet.

Chemical companies use plant and animal fats to make base stocks such as esters. Lewis acknowledged that a process like the one being developed by The Biocycle would need to be regulated before supplying ingredients for applications such as lubricants, and he stated, Should our product go into any high-value lubricant application, we would most certainly comply with regulatory frameworks.

Black soldier fly larvae are popular tools for decomposing human waste and compost, partly because they have such voracious appetites and partly because they are not pests to humans. Existing applications include nutrients for aquaculture and animal feeds.

Patrick Swan, principal consultant at Aswan Consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, said the black soldier fly technology holds potential benefits if they can control viscosity and control quality. He added, though, that there is too much waste in the material they are talking about to make it viable.

An industrial chemist and oil and gas practitioner in Nigeria who asked to remain anonymous contended that processes using black soldier flies are a viable source of ingredients for lubricants because of the rapid conversion rate. The chemist also noted the growing demand for biodegradable lubricants and sustainable development.

The BioCycle is the first venture to emerge from the Sanitation Ventures Program, an initiative of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, supported by a grant of U.S. $4.8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The BioCycle is collaborating with the Ethekwini Water and Sanitation to build a pilot plant with capacity to process 30 tons of human sewage per day.

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