Scientists from Tulane University in New Orleans have found a way to convert newspapers and other plant based materials into car fuel.
The research of the scientists has hit upon a bacterial strain, Clostridium, TU-103, that chomps away at the cellulose in old newsprint, turning the organic material into butanol, a bio-substitute for the gas tank.
“Cellulose is found in all green plants, and is the most abundant organic material on earth, and converting it into butanol is the dream of many,” says Harshad Velankar, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of David Mullin, associate professor of cell and molecular biology at Tulane University. “In the United States alone, at least 323 million tons of cellulosic materials that could be used to produce butanol are thrown out each year.”
Other strains of Clostridium have been used to produce butanol before, but they’ve had to be genetically engineered to do so. Others can produce butanol, but not in the presence of oxygen, while still others must break down the cellulose into sugars first. And some can break down cellulose but don’t produce butanol. Mullins team identified their strain in animal droppings, cultivated it and developed a new methodology (for which the patent is pending) for using the bacteria to produce butanol without having to isolate it from oxygen.
Butanol is touted as an alternative to ethanol because it can be used in automobiles without modification, it contains more energy than ethanol and it can be distributed through existing fuel pipelines (although there are concerns about its toxicity).
The team is currently experimenting with old editions of the Times Picayune newspaper. “In addition to possible savings on the price per gallon, as a fuel, bio-butanol produced from cellulose would dramatically reduce carbon dioxide and smog emissions in comparison to gasoline, and have a positive impact on landfill waste,” says dr. Mullin.