Environment

Scientists claim that cars could run on old newspapers

Tulane associate professor David Mullin (right), postdoctoral fellow Harshad Velankar (center), and undergraduate student Hailee Rask have discovered a bacteria that converts the cellulose in newspapers to biofuel
Tulane associate professor David Mullin (right), postdoctoral fellow Harshad Velankar (center), and undergraduate student Hailee Rask have discovered a bacteria that converts the cellulose in newspapers to biofuel
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Tulane associate professor David Mullin (right), postdoctoral fellow Harshad Velankar (center), and undergraduate student Hailee Rask have discovered a bacteria that converts the cellulose in newspapers to biofuel
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Tulane associate professor David Mullin (right), postdoctoral fellow Harshad Velankar (center), and undergraduate student Hailee Rask have discovered a bacteria that converts the cellulose in newspapers to biofuel

Hopefully, your old newspapers don't just end up in the landfill. In the future, however, they might not even be used to make more paper - instead they may be the feedstock for a biofuel-producing strain of bacteria. Named "TU-103," the microorganism was recently discovered by a team of scientists at New Orleans' Tulane University. It converts cellulose - such as that found in newspapers - into butanol, which can be substituted for gasoline.

"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," said team member Harshad Velankar. "In the United States alone, at least 323 million tons [293 million tonnes] of cellulosic materials that could be used to produce butanol are thrown out each year."

The scientists first discovered TU-103 in animal feces, and have since cultivated it, and developed a patent-pending process that allows it to produce butanol from cellulose. In their lab, they have had success using newspapers as the cellulose source. While other bacteria have been found to produce butanol in the past, they have all required an oxygen-free environment, which increases production costs. TU-103, on the other hand, is able to survive and function in the presence of oxygen.

Although ethanol is also derived from cellulose, butanol is reportedly superior to that biofuel in several ways - it can be used as is in all unmodified automobile engines, it can be pumped through existing pipelines, it is less corrosive, and it contains more energy.

"This discovery could reduce the cost to produce bio-butanol," said David Mullin, whose lab in Tulane's Department of Cell and Molecular Biology was the location of the research. "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."

23 comments
Alien
Is it safe? Can we be sure these bacteria won\'t escape or mutate and wipe out the Amazon rainforest? Is it scalable? If the answer to both is \'Yes\' - then what are we waiting for? We can eliminate so much waste and solve much of the energy problem at the same time!
Mark A
I am all for alternative solutions but it seems like there is a number of offerings yet none get to market. And with the demise of so many daily newspapers I am not sure if this source is sustainable. I vote for algae fuel.
Slowburn
If you believe the green fascists propaganda about AGW the land fill is exactly where newspapers should end up. It is called carbon sequestering.
William H Lanteigne
This could presumably use other sources of cellulose, like crop residue, or grass clippings...
Michiel Mitchell
ermm.... again...... how exactly is this going to boil down to \" cheaper fuel\" for us mere mortals here at \"grass-roots\" level... I thought so yes! all I can see is the oil overlords now just have another way to up the profit margin even that much more...
Anumakonda Jagadeesh
Very Good innovation. Does it mean Cellulose rich plants can also be used for fuel. Already Agave is used as Biofuel in Mexico.
alcalde
\"This could presumably use other sources of cellulose, like crop residue, or grass clippings...\" My first thought was of a lawn mower that sucks up the grass clippings and converts them into fuel for the mower. :-)
Aussie_Renewable
\"If you believe the green fascists propaganda about AGW\". @Slowburn, you really are a Corporate Tool, aren\'t you?
islander
Gee, another cheap, efficient, less polluting alternative to putting petrol in my car. That must make almost 100 alternatives I\'ve read about in the last 3 years. How come I can still only buy petrol? Does it fall into the same category as car companies saying they have to charge more for electric vehicles or hybrids to cover development costs when we know they price cars as they want to, regularly offsetting a minimal profit on one vehicle to be made up by higher margins on other models. A couple of hundred dollars extra on the price of every petrol vehicle would surely allow hybrids and electric vehicles to be sold more cheaply than conventional models. But just like the story for alternative fuels, the oil companies don\'t want it so we don\'t get it.
Karsten Evans
This has all the same problems as making ethanol. It is a good thing to reuse celluose that can\'t be remade into paper/packaging etc. But I doubt there would be enough to satisfy demand for fuel. It is a good example though how bacteria could be useful in ways not thought of. I liked the bacteria that turns sand into stone.
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