If there’s one thing there seems to be an endless supply of, it's garbage. The idea of turning the trash that currently ends up in landfill into a fuel to combat the growing energy crisis and tackle carbon emissions isn’t new. Companies like Waste2tricity in the UK are already looking to convert waste from business and industry into clean electricity. Now scientists in Singapore and Switzerland have added credence to the idea, saying that replacing gasoline with biofuel derived from processed waste biomass could cut global emissions by 80%.
Although biofuels may help free countries around the world from their reliance on fossil fuels, many argue the environmental advantages are offset by the increase in crop production required to meet widespread demand. According to a new study, however, second-generation biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol derived from processed urban waste, may offer dramatic emissions savings without the environmental catch.
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"Our results suggest that fuel from processed waste biomass, such as paper and cardboard, is a promising clean energy solution," said study author Associate Professor Hugh Tan of the National University of Singapore. "If developed fully, this biofuel could simultaneously meet part of the world's energy needs, while also combating carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency."
The team used the United Nation's Human Development Index to estimate the generation of waste in 173 countries. This data was then coupled to the Earthtrends database to estimate the amount of gasoline consumed in those same countries.
The team found that 82.93 billion liters of cellulosic ethanol could be produced from the world's landfill waste and that, by substituting gasoline with the resulting biofuel, global carbon emissions could be cut by figures ranging from 29.2% to 86.1% for every unit of energy produced.
"If this technology continues to improve and mature, these numbers are certain to increase," concluded co-author Dr. Lian Pin Koh from ETH Zürich. "This could make cellulosic ethanol an important component of our renewable energy future."
The research is research published in the journal Global Change Biology: Bioenergy.