London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel

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iStock

UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

Former NASA Engineer Builds Farting Glitter Bomb to Teach Porch Pirates a Lesson

Mark Rober, YouTube
Mark Rober, YouTube

If you’re looking to exact revenge on the porch pirate who stole your Amazon package, look no further than YouTuber Mark Rober’s clever tactic. As The Verge reports, the former NASA engineer disguised a seemingly ordinary package as a “glitter bomb” and planted it on his porch. Then he sat back and waited for someone to take the bait. You can see the hilarious results in the video below.

It all started when Rober’s security cameras captured someone stealing a package from his porch, but the police told him an official investigation wouldn't be worth their time. So he decided to opt for some vigilante justice instead.

He had technical know-how on his side, having previously constructed things like a hot tub filled with liquid sand and a dart board that moves to ensure you'll always get a bullseye.

This time around, he decided to celebrate the thief’s “choice of profession” with a “cloud of glitter.” While Rober admits he could have just used a simple spring-loading mechanism for the task, also wanted to capture the thief's reaction on camera.

He spent six months working on the design and outfitted the box with motion sensors, a GPS tracker, and four cell phones with wide-angle cameras. All of this would ensure that the thief was caught on camera, no matter which angle they opened the box from.

The technology inside the box is probably worth more than your average Amazon order, so he also installed some fart spray for good measure. It continues to release five sprays of the foul-smelling stuff every 30 seconds, practically guaranteeing that any thief would throw away the package before they realized what it contained. (Spoiler alert: That's exactly what happened.) Then, using the GPS trackers, Rober could recover it and reuse the device.

Even if he didn't get his package back, it's designed to automatically upload the footage to the cloud, where Rober could watch it.

The whole package is designed to look like an Apple HomePod. And, because Rober was having fun with the little details, he slapped a fake delivery label on the box. The sender? Kevin McCallister of Home Alone fame, who inspired the project, Rober says.

He had the chance to test it out on a few unsuspecting thieves, and you can watch their hilarious reactions in the video below.

[h/t The Verge]

Scientists at UC San Diego Want You to Mail Them Your Poop

iStock.com/mapichai
iStock.com/mapichai

Poop. It’s fun to say, funny to talk about, and makes for an all-purpose emoji. But who wants to actually handle it?

Now, researchers of the American Gut Project at the University of California, San Diego, may be giving people new motivations to not only retain a stool sample, but pack it up and ship it to them. According to Inside Science, a team led by biologist Rob Knight is currently welcoming fecal samples from the public at large to analyze their microbiome profiles.

The microbiome is the assembly of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that live in and on our bodies, which can change in response to lifestyle habits like diet and exercise. Recent research suggests that some microbiome profiles may make people predisposed to conditions like obesity and cancer, and might even influence our mental health. Altering the microbiome may have potentially beneficial health effects, which is why researchers like Knight are looking to collect data—in this case, poop.

“Your microbiome weighs about as much as your brain does—you're talking about a couple of pounds of material,” Knight told Inside Science. “And it certainly has more cells, way more genes, arguably as much complexity as your brain. And we're just starting to understand the far-reaching effects that it has on the rest of your body.”

Knight says that over 10,000 people have already donated their excrement for science as part of the project. And it's already producing results. In the first published study of the American Gut Project's work, which appeared in the American Society for Microbiology's journal mSystems in May 2018, the researchers found that plant-heavy diets led to a more diverse bacterial colony in stomachs than people who ate comparatively fewer types of greens. Their data also showed some preliminary evidence that people with mental health complaints tended to have similar microbiomes as people who reported the same issues.

Knight and his colleagues would love to analyze your poop in an effort to compile more information, but there is a catch: Donors have to pay a $99 fee to join the project, an informal kind of crowdfunding that keeps the research financed. If you submit a sample—basically a poop swab taken from your used toilet tissue—the team at Human Gut will send you a personalized microbiome profile and an assessment of how your gut flora compares with the rest of the population. For incrementally larger fees, you might be able to see how your diet, level of exercise, and family members' flora affect your microbiome at finer resolutions. They’ll even test your dog’s donations.

You can join the effort here. The future of poop research thanks you for your participation.

[h/t SF Gate]

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