Imperial researchers say biofuel from festive waste paper like wrapping paper and Christmas cards could power a bus to the moon 20 times - News release
Imperial College London News Release
For immediate release
Friday 23 December 2011
If all the UK's discarded wrapping paper and Christmas cards were collected and fermented, they could make enough biofuel to run a double-decker bus to the moon and back more than 20 times, according to the researchers behind a new scientific study.
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The study, by scientists at Imperial College London, demonstrates that industrial quantities of waste paper could be turned into high grade biofuel, to power motor vehicles, by fermenting the paper using microorganisms. The researchers hope that biofuels made from waste paper could ultimately provide one alternative to fossil fuels like diesel and petrol, in turn reducing the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.
According to some estimates 1.5 billion cards and 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper are thrown away by UK residents over the Christmas period. They currently go to landfill or are recycled in local schemes. This amount of paper could provide 5-12 million litres of biofuel, say the researchers, enough to run a bus for up to 18 million km.
"If one card is assumed to weigh 20g and one square metre of wrapping paper is 10g, then around 38,300 tonnes of extra paper waste will be generated at Christmas time," said study author Dr Richard Murphy from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. "Our research shows that it would be feasible to build waste paper-to-biofuel processing plants that give energy back as transport fuel."
Co-author and PhD student Lei Wang, also from Imperial's Department of Life Sciences, said: "The fermentation process could even cope with festive paper and card which has been 'contaminated' with the likes of glitter and sellotape. The cellulose molecules in sellotape would be broken down into glucose sugars and then fermented into ethanol fuel, just like the paper itself. Insoluble items like glitter are easy to filter out as part of the process."
Dr Murphy added: "People should not stop recycling their discarded paper and Christmas cards because at the moment there is no better solution. However, if this technology can be developed further, waste paper might ultimately provide a great, environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. There's more work to do to assess the effectiveness and benefits of the technology, but we think it has significant potential."
In the study, published this month in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Energy and Environmental Science, the researchers describe how they fermented different types of paper and cardboard in the laboratory to assess how chemically and economically feasible it is to turn them into ethanol fuel. They found that it is not only possible in laboratory experiments but should be economically viable on a large scale as well.
Across the year, around 60 per cent of the UK's waste paper is collected for recycling or other waste management schemes, which equates to around 8 million tonnes. The scientists say that using a well-tested fermentation method and a novel cocktail of efficient and cheap chemical enzymes, their system could be scaled up to the size of existing industrial processing plants and be used to convert 2000 tonnes of waste paper per day into biofuels.
There is already an urgent need for councils to prevent reusable materials like cardboard and paper being sent to landfill sites, saving money and avoiding unnecessary waste, a message echoed by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson in a speech about Recycle for London's Nice Save campaign this week. This new research shows that in addition to recycling, waste materials can be used to generate energy, and some of that can be as valuable vehicle fuel.
High grade ethanol, such as that made in this study, can be (and already is) blended with fossil-based petrol to make a fuel with lower greenhouse gas balance than conventional petrol for cars and vans, and can also be used to power large diesel vehicles like buses and trucks, if modifications are made to their engines. This approach is already used in Brazil, the USA and the EU, among other regions, where ethanol biofuels are being made from sugar cane, grain and other crops. Most of the UK's biofuel is currently imported from abroad.
The authors of this study are now analysing the environmental performance of bioethanol made from waste paper using life cycle assessment (LCA) and comparing it with the conventional transport fuel petrol. LCA is an environmental management tool that evaluates the 'cradle-to-grave' effects of a product for its influence on a range of environmental impact categories, including its ability to contribute to climate change or soil acidification or to cause algal blooms in fresh water.
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Notes to editors:
1. Journal reference: Wang L, Sharifzadeh M, Templer R and Murphy RJ "Technolog y performance and economic feasibility of bioethanol production from various waste papers" is published in Energy and Environmental Science DOI: 10.1039/C2EE02935A
2. The maths:
(1) Bioethanol predicted from using Christmas waste is 5.2-12 million L, energy content of ethanol is 22 MJ/L
(2) Economy mileage for a diesel bus is 39 L/100km (Wikipedia info)
Diesel energy conte nt is 3 8.6 MJ/ L
Bus running needs 15 MJ/km
(3)&n bs p; Bus using bioethanol can run 1.47 km/L
(4) Distance of bus running is 7.6-18 million km
(5) Times travelling to moon (distance is 0.38 million km) is 20-47 times
3. Globally, the annual bioethanol production from waste paper and cardboard has been estimated by Shi et al. to be in the order of 80 billion litres a nd world annual consumption of paper products in 2010 (400 million tonnes) could potentially amount up to 129 billion litres if all used papers were completely converted to bioethanol. These estimates suggest waste paper derived bioethanol could deliver a considerable potential to displace a useful proportion of petroleum demand. Overall, this comprehensive techno-economic analysis shows that bioethanol production from waste papers can be economically feasible.
4. About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative res earch at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.
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