Tulane scientists have found a way to convert newspaper and other plant based materials into car fuel.
Here’s one way that old-fashioned
newsprint beats the Internet. Tulane
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 newspaper with
TU-103 is the first bacterial strain
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,” says Harshad Velankar, a postdoctoral fellow in David
Mullin’s laboratory 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 laboratory 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,”
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 biofuel, 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,” says 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.”