Turning our waste paper in to biofuel could replace over 5% of global petrol consumption, say scientists from Singapore and Switzerland. It would also reduce the burden on our rapidly filling landfills.
So-called “first generation” biofuels made from food crops such as corn or soy have been widely criticised as an unworkable solution to the energy crisis. Growing crops for fuel takes up valuable agriculture land and leads to higher food prices. Now, a new wave of biofuel producers are looking to alternative sources.
A study published in the journal GCB Bioenergy details the possibility of producing a fuel called cellulosic ethanol from waste paper and cardboard. The researchers created a model to estimate the amount of this waste in each country, and found that the potential for waste-based biofuel amounts to over 80 billion litres globally.
Clearly, the quantity of fuel that can be produced depends on the level of waste in each country. Nations like Sierra Leone could only manage to produce around a third of a litre of fuel per person each year, while Norway could potentially turn out nearly 50 litres.
Fuel demands also vary by country of course. By modelling this demand and comparing it with the potential for generating fuel from waste, the researchers found cellulosic ethanol could replace 5.36% of global petrol demand.
Cutting down on petrol also means reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The data on emissions from cellulosic ethanol is varied, but the researchers estimate that a switch to biofuel would save between 29.2% and 86.1% of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our results suggest that fuel from processed waste biomass, such as paper and cardboard, is a promising clean energy solution,” said study author Associate Professor Hugh Tan of the National University of Singapore.
“If developed fully this biofuel could simultaneously meet part of the world’s energy needs, while also combating carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency.”
SHI, A., KOH, L., & TAN, H. (2009). The biofuel potential of municipal solid waste GCB Bioenergy DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2009.01024.x