Cars could run on recycled newspaper, scientists say

Aug 25, 2011
Tulane has applied for a patent for a method to produce the biofuel butanol from organic material, a process developed by associate professor David Mullin, right, postdoctoral fellow Harshad Velankar, center, and undergraduate student Hailee Rask. Credit: Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano

Here's one way that old-fashioned newsprint beats the Internet. Tulane University scientists have discovered a novel bacterial strain, dubbed "TU-103," that can use paper to produce butanol, a biofuel that can serve as a substitute for gasoline. They are currently experimenting with old editions of the Times Picayune, New Orleans' venerable daily newspaper, with great success.

TU-103 is the first from nature that produces 
butanol directly from cellulose, an organic compound.

"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 Harshad Velankar, a postdoctoral fellow in David Mullin's lab in Tulane's Department of Cell and Molecular Biology. "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."


Mullin's lab first identified TU-103 in animal droppings, cultivated it and developed a method for using it to produce butanol. A patent is pending on the process.

"Most important about this discovery is TU-103's ability to produce butanol directly from cellulose," explained Mullin.

He added that TU-103 is the only known butanol-producing clostridial strain that can grow and produce butanol in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. Having to produce butanol in an oxygen-free space increases the costs of production.

As a , butanol is superior to ethanol (commonly produced from corn sugar) because it can readily fuel existing motor vehicles without any modifications to the engine, can be transported through existing fuel pipelines, is less corrosive, and contains more energy than ethanol, which would improve mileage. 


"This discovery could reduce the cost to produce bio-butanol," said Mullin. "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."

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Provided by Tulane University

4.6 /5 (18 votes)

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User comments : 13

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Yellowdart
3 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2011
Too bad nobody reads the newspaper anymore :)
WhiteJim
4 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2011
plenty of straw, corn husk and wood chips out there... this solves the dependancy on oil and energy problem ... now lets see if they allow society to benefit from this one.

Sounds like a farmer can make his own fuel from waste vegetation.
CapitalismPrevails
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2011
This is great. So if this bacteria works on all plant bio mass, than that mean it can work on dead trees, grain stalkings, produce waste?
CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2011
The reason i ask is because i live on a farm!
Scottingham
not rated yet Aug 25, 2011
I would imagine that the hard part now is to find the ideal conditions for this bacteria. Most likely, the buildup of the butanol would inhibit or even kill the bacteria that are producing it if too much accumulates.

A fine balancing act of temperature, feedstock, bacteria counts, moisture, surface area, and butanol levels would have to be found for this to be done in any sort of large scale process.
Shootist
1.4 / 5 (10) Aug 25, 2011
Oh good, the liberals now have another reason to raise taxes; subsidize the newsprint and newspaper businesses as too big to fail, so we can use the used newsprint to fuel our cars.

Why don't we just cut down the trees directly?
Yelmurc
2.8 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2011
Our cars can run on a lot of things. The issue isn't just reducing and eliminating our dependency on foreign oil. It's that we need to figure out a way to create renewable sources of energy, rather it be solar or hydrogen or fusion. It seems like a waste of time and resources to spend so much time on band aids when we all know what we should be focusing on.
emsquared
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2011
The issue isn't just reducing and eliminating our dependency on foreign oil. It's that we need to figure out a way to create renewable sources of energy...

Actually energy independence is a very good and worthy short term goal/motivator. It will get us to sustainable energy quicker than just shaking your finger and saying, "we all know what we should be focusing on". Because even if everybody agreed on what we should be focusing on (which they don't), there has to be the economic driver, and right now internal U.S. industry would be a big boon in many ways.

You know how much yard waste people dispose of every year? Not to mention agricultural bi-products.(!) A business could probably convince people to pay them to take it away (or pay them nominally), then turn it into fuel, or sell it to someone who can, and profit from it even more.

As scottingham alluded to though, it's efficiency and scalability will determine it's viability as a mainstream energy source.
knikiy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2011
Oh good, the liberals now have another reason to raise taxes; subsidize the newsprint and newspaper businesses as too big to fail, so we can use the used newsprint to fuel our cars.

Why don't we just cut down the trees directly?


I think you should go live on Easter Island.
scidog
4 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2011
add this to the gator fat and left over chip frying oil and we have solved the fuel problem-
socean
4 / 5 (4) Aug 26, 2011
Energy is a form of wealth. In fact, as currencies go, its among the most useful and universal.

If individuals are allowed to use this process, it will not only help solve energy problems, it will re-invigorate the economy by helping to offset the concentration of wealth. Unlike solar and wind, it creates a form of energy that is portable and exchangeable.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2011
I think the idea in the article is a good one. Seems like it could scale up nicely, too.

The issue isn't just reducing and eliminating our dependency on foreign oil.

There's also the aesthetic quality of burning chemicals for energy: That seems 'so last milennium' to me. And no combustion process is free from unwanted secondary products (NOx, CO, ... )

It's that we need to figure out a way to create renewable sources of energy, rather it be solar or hydrogen or fusion.

Pedantically speaking:
- Fusion isn't a renewable power source.
- Hydrogen (economy) isn't a power source at all but a storage medium
- (OK, solar isn't renewable, either, taken over a few billion years...but who's counting?)

If individuals are allowed to use this process,

That could actually be the main thing. Depending on how much the average household could get out of a small bioreactor under the kitchen sink.
Newbeak
not rated yet Aug 30, 2011
I would imagine that the hard part now is to find the ideal conditions for this bacteria. Most likely, the buildup of the butanol would inhibit or even kill the bacteria that are producing it if too much accumulates.

A fine balancing act of temperature, feedstock, bacteria counts, moisture, surface area, and butanol levels would have to be found for this to be done in any sort of large scale process.

I read some time ago that bacteria/yeast cells are killed when alcohol concentrations rise above a certain level.I wonder how they get around that? Anyway,butanol is an excellent auto fuel,from what I have been able to gather.It doesn't have the corrosive qualities of ethanol and has a significantly higher energy density,almost as much as gasoline.Further reading: http://nabc.cals....amey.pdf