Old Newspapers + Secret Ingredient = Cheap Biofuel

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tulane researchers make butane biofuel from newspaper and bacteriaToday’s fishwrap is tomorrow’s biofuel: a research team from Tulane University has found a low cost, energy efficient way to recycle ordinary newspapers into butanol biofuel, which can be used as a drop-in replacement for gasoline. The secret ingredient is a bacteria found in animal droppings, which naturally produces butanol as it digests the news. That’s not as far-fetched as it may seem, because the animal waste-to-biofuel connection is being explored on a number of different fronts, and bacteria are emerging front and center in the new world of low cost biofuel.

The Importance of Being Butane Biofuel

The benefits of the newspaper-bacteria biofuel production process are many. Because it is based on natural fermentation, it needs less energy than conventional biofuel operations. Aside from the simplicity of the process, the use of a recycled material rather than a food crop such as corn is a big plus. Since butane is a drop-in fuel, it can be substituted for gasoline without needing any engine modifications, which gives it an edge over ethanol. According to writer Kathryn Hobgood Ray at Tulane, butane also contains more energy than ethanol and it is less corrosive to fuel pipelines, and it has a far lower carbon footprint than gasoline.

Bacteria and Biofuel

The Tulane team calls their new bacteria TU-103, and it is apparently the first bacteria found in nature that can convert cellulose directly into butanol. Meanwhile, over at the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers are developing another biofuel microbe that can produce butanol from waste material, including agricultural waste. In an interesting twist, the University of Alabama is developing a butane-producing bacteria that lives on glycerol – an annoying byproduct of biofuel operations.

Biofuel Production and Green Jobs on the Rise

Over the summer, the Obama Administration launched a series of initiatives designed to push the biofuel industry forward and create new green jobs in rural communities. There’s a long way to go before renewable biofuel nudges fossil fuels out of the picture, but the pace is rapidly picking up. According to Biofuels Digest, the U.S. produced more biodiesel in the first half of this year than it did in all of 2010, when it produced about 315 million gallons. The industry is on track to produce 800 million gallons this year.

Image: Newspapers by DaveCrosby on flickr.com.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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