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Biotech Transportation Science

Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the finally-a-use-for-newspapers-in-the-internet-age dept.
Debuting on the front page, Lifyre writes "Scientists at Tulane have found a natural bacteria (dubbed TU-103) that produces butanol. While butanol-producing bacteria aren't new, there are a few important points about this particular bacterium. It is the first natural bacteria that converts cellulose directly to butanol without the cellulose needing to be processed into sugar first, and it can do this in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. The simplification of the process could significantly decrease the production costs of butanol. This bacteria could allow virtually any plant product, such as newspaper or grass clippings, to be used to produce fuel for conventional vehicles."
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Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria

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  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @07:47PM (#37259742) Journal

    So, we can turn old newspapers into fuel. This could create, I dunno, hundreds of gallons of fuel a year. Ok, let's say thousands. Ok ok ok, let's say a million gallons a year. This will surely make a dent in the 380 million gallons the US uses (www.eia.gov) every day.

    I was going to say, this will be useful on an individual basis because it gives savvy people the opportunity to make their own fuel at home. I mean... wait a minute... I haven't bought a newspaper in probably six years. I guess I'll need to start stealing my neighbors' paper.

  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @07:51PM (#37259782)
    Using bacteria (or any other process) to rearrange the chemical bonds of a substance doesn't come free. It consumes energy.

    From an environmental point of view, they should simply send the newspapers to coal power plants and burn them along with the coal. Those power plants have conversion rates of heat to electricity on the order of 40%, instead of about 25% that internal combustion engines of cars have. But of course, this is not about the environment, or even CO2.

    Instead there seems to be some despair about the cheap oil reserves slipping out of US control, especially after the failure of the Iraq war to secure US supplies. Otherwise nobody would pursue such follies as butanol from paper scraps or ethanol from corn. All this is made worse by the inability of US politicians to comprehend that it is perfectly possible to have a standard of living superior to that of the US while using just about half the amount of energy per capita.

    Sure, it would be the end of the American way of life as the world knew it - but that one is over anyway. These days resources have to be shared with the rest of the world. That is, the other 6 billion people outside of the OECD. And that rest of the world is growing [wordpress.com] with little signs of halting or even slowing down.
  • by b4thyme (1120461) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:58PM (#37260340)
    A larger component percentage of the fiber in newsprint is hemi-cellulose and lignin than cellulose. Newsprint is generally made in a mechanical process rather than a chemical process so you are going to be left with all the turpentine and tall oil in the pulp as well. Are you going to just burn the rest? It seems awfully wasteful given how expensive your process is going to be. It is generally accepted that when it comes to newsprint, it is better to burn it than to recycle it as the fuel expended in the collection of it and energy and chemicals expended to de-ink it outweigh the value of the crappy chewed up fiber you get from recovering it. I am a process engineer in a paper mill
  • by similar_name (1164087) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @10:25PM (#37260892)
    Yes that's a big number (and only a 1/4 of the what the world uses as a whole) and would probably be even more if the global economy hadn't been sluggish the last few years but I don't think it's orders of magnitude more than the amount of cellulose on the planet. I'm not presuming that we turn all plants into fuel but 33% of all plant matter is cellulose. While it's hard to come up with accurate numbers the earth's biomass, on the low end it would appear that cellulose would comprise about 40 billion tons. Of course for any honest consideration we would have to look at how much we could potentially collect and how much usable fuel we would get out of it.

    Besides, orders of magnitude are not as overwhelming as they seem. Oil production today is orders of magnitude more than it was 100 years ago, yet somehow we got to where we are. Help me understand the reasoning in disparaging a technology in its infancy because it is not instant solution. 10% here and 10% there can add up. Humans will continue to use more and more energy (if history is any indication). I don't think anything needs to instantly supplant petroleum, we just need to keep finding new ways to get energy wherever we can.
  • Re:Maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:32AM (#37261634) Journal

    Actually, this would be very inefficient farming materials specifically for the cause. However, every existing food farm (that's right corn, wheat, and all) has a left over product called silage. This is the parts of the stalks and such that generally gets ground up and dumped back into the field. Some farmers will attempt to collect this and use it for animal bedding or feed. Not all of it is compatible with feed and most animals will snub it given the chance.

    Anyways, an existing corn field in good growing conditions could yield as much as 16 tons of silage per acre. And that's while growing food crops (despite the majority of corn grown isn't meant for human consumption). Now don't confuse refuse silage as cover crop silage which is a bit different in strategy.

    Either way, there is a lot of untapped cellulose wast that could be somewhat easily moved into a program like this.

The test of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Aldo Leopold

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