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."