A British company, TMO Renewables has entered in a 20-year contract with a US-based company to turn the household waste into biofuels which can be blended with gasoline as per EPA’s requirements. TMO Renewables has developed a strain of genetically-modified bacteria which decomposes household waste like cardboard, wood etc. and turns it into bioethanol.
This process employees state-of-the-art technology which is an advanced generation of biofuel production. This technology serves several purposes and tackles many of the food and waste-related problems that we face today. Biofuels are regarded as one of the solutions to the rising carbon emissions especially from automobiles and airplanes. However, there are grave sustainability issues related to plant-derived biofuels as to whether they really make an net reduction in carbon emissions produced.
Biofuels derived from household or municipal waste is clearly much more sustainable than using food crops or non-edible crops grown on agricultural land. The world has already witnessed a food crisis due to our unthoughtful quest to produce biofuels. Even with the second-generation biofuels (those produced from non-edible crops) there are concerns about reduction in agricultural land and deforestation to cultivate as much land as possible to bank upon expanding market of the supposed ‘silver bullet’ that biofuels were once portrayed as.
Waste is in no short supply. It is as sustainable as mankind’s hunger to consume more. Waste management and disposal has become a menace for cities around the world. The conventional solid waste disposal techniques take substantial amount of time to treat the waste and convert it into something which can be easily disposed off, usually in a landfill. Waste management techniques like incineration, anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis are either very time-consuming or are energy-intensive and do not promise uniform usable residue.
TMO Renewable, by genetically modifying a certain strain of bacteria, has reduced the process time of decomposition of solid waste from days to hours. While the detention time of the solid waste is several days in the conventional technologies, the company claims that the the bacteria can convert the waste into bioethanol in 24 hours. This would not only reduce the operational cost but would also allow the plant to treat more waste in unit time.
Plus there would be far less waste to be dumped into the landfills which, if not constructed properly, can lead to groundwater contamination, soil pollution and can even turn into methane emitters. Landfills are a major problem especially in developing and poor countries. Lack of land for dumping and poor management practices have made the situation worse for developing countries which have no laws regarding segregation and subsequent resource derivation from the waste.
The next-generation production technologies which are actually based on sustainable raw material like waste is the future of biofuels. The European Union and the United States which have mandates the use of biofuels the automobile sector should look at these technologies seriously. Use of such technologies would not only make them self-relient but would also lead to reduction in deforestation in countries like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea which are among the top exporters of biofuels.
Image: edibleoffice at Flickr (Creative Commons)
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.
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