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Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the finally-a-use-for-newspapers-in-the-internet-age dept.

Biotech 185

Debuting on the front page, Lifyre writes "Scientists at Tulane have found a natural bacteria (dubbed TU-103) that produces butanol. While butanol-producing bacteria aren't new, there are a few important points about this particular bacterium. It is the first natural bacteria that converts cellulose directly to butanol without the cellulose needing to be processed into sugar first, and it can do this in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. The simplification of the process could significantly decrease the production costs of butanol. This bacteria could allow virtually any plant product, such as newspaper or grass clippings, to be used to produce fuel for conventional vehicles."

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Implied final line. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259620)

In 30 years.

Maybe.

Re:Implied final line. (1)

TheInternetGuy (2006682) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259816)

Yep, they'd be better off aiming for making fuel from iDevices and bacteria. But I predict that by then we will be able to power the world solely on tapping the energy of unneeded packets on the internet.

Re:Implied final line. (1)

wsxyz (543068) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259834)

This is awesome. It means we can continue driving hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles forever.
And it's carbon-neutral!

Re:Implied final line. (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261490)

IT also means that we take more time and develop a competitive an efficient alternative for them and phase these alternatives in over a period of time that wouldn't cause economic chaos and turmoil for the poor and lower end income people.

Re:Implied final line. (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259880)

-1 Defeatist.

Maybe (1)

Pete Venkman (1659965) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259644)

Wouldn't it save more energy to not print so much useless paper in the first place?

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259664)

But then you'd have to pay for all the out of work journalists.

Not to mention the problem of replacing highly skilled printer's devils in the local area with disposable factory workers in China.

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259668)

It'd save more energy to simply kill off half of the world population. But hey, since people are already here, and the newspaper & grass clipping are already there, might as well find a way to turn the extra waste into something useful that everyone can use.

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259998)

You first.

Re:Maybe (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260920)

It'd save more energy to simply kill off half of the world population. But hey, since people are already here, and the newspaper & grass clipping are already there, might as well find a way to turn the extra waste into something useful that everyone can use.

If you start with the so called western civilization [google.com] , you may find you don't need to kill half a population (the per-capita energy consumption in US is approx 3.5 times the world average).

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259718)

Food for thought: I haven't read the article yet, but it sounds like it could reduce most or all organic wastes.

Re:Maybe (2)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259838)

Normal bacteria can do this right now. It is called a compost bin. Organic waste in, tasty garden food out. The difference is that in a compost bin, the output is stuff that your garden loves, but your car can't run on it. This new strain of bacteria that produces butanol directly. That's basically a huge step forward in the direction that is beneficial to us. It cuts out all the other bacteria steps that we would currently have to use (read: expensive and time consuming and did I say expensive?) if we want to try to convert organic waste materials into stuff that is easy for us to use as a power source.

Re:Maybe (1)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260678)

That's great except I would probably say at least (internet figure) 90% of people do not make use of a compost pile (live in apartments, don't grow their own produce, etc) and therefore much is left for the city to pick up. If this was turned into something more tangible for the general public like fuel, its use would become far more prevalent.

Re:Maybe (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261534)

You mean like a city fuel plant that process waste similar to the old trash burning electrical plants that were all the rage until the EPA regulations made then too expensive to operate?

I was thinking something similar but with silage that is produce by farmers.

Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259720)

Better yet, don't live in the fucking suburbs, where you need to drive to the convenience store just to buy the newspaper in the first place.

Only Americans could come up with an idea as backward and stupid as the suburbs are. Then gas prices shoot up, the American dollar falls sharply, and it starts to become a very costly lifestyle. Instead of fixing the root cause of the problem, they try one band-aid solution after another, from invading Iraq to trying to make fuel out of newspapers.

How about just going back to living in cities, like in every sensible country, where personal transportation isn't as resource-intensive?

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259792)

Why so mad bro?

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260878)

Why so mad bro?

He's walking.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259936)

Only Americans could come up with an idea as backward and stupid as the suburbs are.

Wrong. [wikipedia.org]
So now here's a question: Are you yourself an American teeny-bopper making a fruitless and hypocritical effort to rebel, or are you living proof that non-Americans are every bit as capable of the stupidity for which they criticize Americans? Those are your ONLY possible choices. Any claim to the contrary is a lie.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260016)

Because not everyone wants to live in high rise apartments. Some people want a yard for their kids to play in.

Chicago's population is 2.7 million, but the metropolitan area is over 9.5 million. You can't just shove 3.5 times as many people into a city, it would be a nightmare to the infrastructure, not to mention the numerous rights violations that would be necessary to make that happen.

How about just going back to living in cities, like in every sensible country, where personal transportation isn't as resource-intensive?

You've confused "sensible country" with "small country", or possibly with "country where the government routinely takes your land and tells you where to live". While there are situations in which the latter can happen in the US, it is exceedingly rare. The US is huge compared to all of Western Europe and vastly larger than any single country there.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (1)

esseffe (1203628) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260106)

don't you ever wonder why people moved out of the cities? high cost of living, high crime rates, failing schools, endless political corruption ring a bell? If cities were competitive with the suburbs in terms of affordability of housing and safety, people would flock back to the cities. Sadly, this is not the case.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260408)

Those were absolutely not the reasons people moved out of the cities. What you describe are nothing but the result of the wealthier people moving to the suburbs. You are confusing the result with the cause.

I was in my 20s in the 1950s when suburban American happened. I remember it very clearly. People moved to the suburbs not because they disliked the city for any of the reasons you gave, but merely because it was hyped as the thing to do.

It's really no different than Apple products today. They aren't actually any better than the alternatives. In many ways, they're actually quite inferior. But they are hyped constantly, especially in the media. People somehow think that they need to buy Apple devices, even when they don't need them, and even when they don't actually want them!

The high cost of living, crime rates, failing schools, and corruption we saw in the 1970s and 1980s was due to only the dregs of society being left behind in the cities.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260526)

People didn't move out of the cities because it was hyped as the thing to do. People moved out of cities because the population exceeded the available land to live on and they didn't want to raise families in apartments. There just isn't room in cities to build enough new houses. As the earlier poster said, 9.5 million people would not fit in the city of Chicago unless you forced them to live in apartment blocks.

I'm both inventing and declaring the relevant portion of your post an instance of Jobwin's law, which is exactly like Godwin's law, replacing "Hitler" and "Nazi" with "iPhone".

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260700)

You were born in 1989. You know nothing of life before suburban America, let alone what caused it in the first place. Your opinion is irrelevant, and absolutely wrong.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (2)

cduffy (652) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260482)

Hey, there --

I recently moved into a modern (6-year-old construction) condo in Austin's urban core (actually the east side, traditionally the high-crime area), and couldn't be happier.

Cost of living - lower. Quality of living - better. Mortgage, insurance, and other expenses on my condo are quite a lot cheaper than on the house up north, I don't need to drive to get places (commuting to work and the store via train+bike is considerably cheaper), and the HOA fee includes a whole bunch of things which used to be separate bills (Internet, natural gas, trash/recycling, water, professional lawn care, etc). And I have a huge, gated courtyard (shared with the neighbors, granted) big enough for my large dog to run in -- I can lob the ball as hard as I want and not worry about it going over a fence. Moreover, things which used to be budget-busting homeownership expenses (such as tearing up and re-pouring a concrete driveway with a plumbing break under it) are not even a drop in the bucket when shared among 200 neighbors.

Crime rates? Meet gates. Ground-floor properties are commercial (or are residential units accessible only from inside the courtyard); access to the residential units means getting buzzed in. Also, having a well-lit and well-cared-for exterior means we avoid the broken window effect, such that more criminal activity takes case in places that look run-down. I had a lot more trouble in my old neighborhood in the suburban sprawl (mostly with stereo systems stolen from cars and the like) than I do here.

Failing schools? Guilty as charged, which is why my friends with kids send them to private schools or move out to the 'burbs. On the other hand, either set (both the private-school friends and the burb-school friends) are paying vastly more, via their choice of property taxes or tuition fees. The schools here are indeed not so good, but then, they're cheap; we get what we pay for.

Political corruption? Not more than anywhere else. We've got one council member who's a serious policy wonk, takes his job seriously and represents my interests almost perfectly; one who's a sock puppet for the lower-density neighborhood HOAs (and thus is my enemy, but represents someone else's interests perfectly); and several who have their faults (which, yes, sometimes do involve directing funds in popular programs in ways which might be seen as pandering to a constituency), but they're not worse as a whole than any I've seen elsewhere.

Anyhow, as for "why people moved out of the cities" -- the larger-scale answer is that massive infrastructure (such as the interstate highway system) was built subsidizing that decision, and the many of the knock-on effects acted as reinforcement. Some of the problems you discuss, such as the quality of schools, fall into the set of symptoms caused by the exodus into suburbia -- not a part of the historical underpinnings thereof.

Make it artificially inexpensive to live a long distance from work and it's little surprise that individuals react to such -- even though total costs increase when the number of miles of road, water, power, and other infrastructure needed to service a given population rises. As a result, it's us folks in the urban core subsidizing the more-expensive-per-capita infrastructure serving folks out in the sprawl! Providing economic encouragement for urban living (by way of zoning and tax incentives favoring high-density mixed-use development) is the sensible thing for cities to do if they want to decrease their long-run per-capita infrastructure expenses.

If you only looked at the prices on brand new high rises being advertised by their developers, you'd think living downtown was expensive too, though it's nothing of the sort if you buy with an eye towards affordability. Don't knock urban living until you've taken a closer look.

Re:Or don't live in the damn suburbs. (2)

drsquare (530038) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261380)

Those things are the result of white flight from the suburbs, not the cause. Obviously the suburban education system isn't that great after all, it hasn't taught you anything about cause and effect, or demographic history.

Re:Maybe (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259812)

We'd save more energy if we simply didn't recycle it, and used it for other stuff in it's raw already used form. There's a reason why we have tree farms, and these tree farms exist specifically for the paper and pulp industries.

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259844)

the world only needs so many paper mache dinosaurs, but it sounds like a nice hobby.

Re:Maybe (2)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259928)

the world only needs so many paper mache dinosaurs, but it sounds like a nice hobby.

That's a nice fantasy, but in other parts of the world like Canada, since we're voracious paper users. We long ago(90 odd years ago) figured out that using untreated pulp mixed with mulch, and compost is a good way to get rid of it.

Re:Maybe (1)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260522)

You really don't think all of Canada's paper goes to compost do you? Some quick google searches show that ~71% of paper produced in Canada comes from recycled paper and sawmill residue. I don't want to do the research to write a paper but it looks like over 50% is from recycled paper alone. Of course the real question is how the energy to grow a tree, cut it down and process it into paper compares to the energy needed to recycle paper. BTW Canada imports waste paper from the United States just to recycle it and sell it, so there must be some benefit to it.

Energy for Paper making (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260696)

This probably doesn't account for all the energy, but I believe most modern paper mills are mostly self-powered from the waste products from the paper making process itself:

Black Liquor [wikipedia.org] (no, not booze)

That is, they use energy extracted from the wood to run the pulp mills. Since the energy in plant matter comes from the Sun, I don't see a lot of compelling need to recycle paper. However, if it makes economic sense, sure, why not. Just in general terms, of all the products mankind creates, paper seems like the least important to recycle, in terms of energy and raw materials (can always grow more trees/hemp/whatever).

Re:Maybe (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261086)

This story has nothing in particular to do with newspaper. They just spun it that way because if you want to use cellulose for biofuel, the first question is where to get the cellulose? Slash and burn the rainforests to make farmland? Take over land that was producing food for hungry people? So, starting with examples of waste cellulose is a tactic to head off those questions. How much waste cellulose is actually available, I don't know.

"Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259672)

So I can run my car off my cat box?

Big deal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259688)

I can take a newspaper in the bathroom and produce flammable gas via a very simple process too.

Re:Big deal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260532)

Gas, maybe. But this is liquid.

Most automobiles are not designed to store or burn syngas for fuel, but requires little or no modification to burn gasoline-butanol mix.

Stanislaw Lem predicted this (1)

chiph (523845) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259706)

in his novel "Memoirs Found in a Bathtub", where a bacteria voraciously ate paper, causing paperalysis for the humans (no identity papers, no money, no books) and the death of the Earth's biosphere (because it ate all the trees).

Re:Stanislaw Lem predicted this (2)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259758)

...with the additional plot element that it turns the cellulose into flammable material...

Re:Stanislaw Lem predicted this (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260394)

"with the additional plot element that it turns the cellulose into flammable material..."

Wow. Michael Bay will be all over this one. [xkcd.com]

Re:Stanislaw Lem predicted this (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260450)

My favorite visual image is the "roiling alligator-filled wall of flame". A close second is James Carville emerging from the conflagration riding a burning alligator.

Re:Stanislaw Lem predicted this (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260758)

Well, other than the bit about the death of the Earth's biosphere, it doesn't sound too bad. ;-)

I mean, nowadays, identity 'papers' are made of plastic (my Ohio drivers license, at least; my passport is still paper, but could be made from plastics easy enough). Money is mostly electronic, and there's always metal coins. Books are mostly electronic (though I daresay we'd lose some historical books, scrolls, etc which have never been scanned).

Huh? (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259712)

First, cellulose is a sugar. It is a long chain polymer of simple sugars. This is why it has the "ose" suffix, just like sucrose and glucose. You don't have to convert cellulose into sugar.

Second, newspaper is already a fuel. It burns great. They even sell "portable grills" that are nothing more than big tin cans with some holes, into which you stuff some newspaper that you light afire and cook your hamburgers on top of.

Re:Huh? (2)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259740)

Except that portable grills are not "conventional vehicles".

Newspaper-powered steam car. (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261516)

I thought of it first.

Except nobody reads newspapers anymore.

Hmmmm... I got it!

iPad-powered steam car.

I thought of it first.

Re:Huh? (2)

bluemonq (812827) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259958)

I can't wait to go the gas station and pump newspapers into my car!

Re:Huh? (5, Informative)

OSU ChemE (974181) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259990)

Yes, cellulose is a polymer of simple sugars. However most organisms lack the enzymes to break the chain up into its individual units. Ruminants and termites have symbiotic bacteria that digest it for them, and some species of fungus can break down cellulose (think mushrooms on a fallen tree) but as it stands, using cellulosic feedstocks require breaking up the chain via enzymes (expensive) or acids (nasty) so that bacteria can utilize it. And yes, newspaper does burn quite well, but I'd like to see you stuff it in your gas tank.

Re:Huh? (4, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260910)

more to the point, we'd like to see him stuff rolls of newspapers into his "it's just sugar" face for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and see how much energy he gets.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260176)

Keep your hickory and mesquite, I've got pine pulp and ink!

Re:Huh? (3, Informative)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260454)

"First, cellulose is a sugar."

No. It's a polymer of simple sugars.

What you said is like saying starch is a sugar. It's also a polymer of simple sugars.

Take a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar#Chemical [wikipedia.org]

You might as well say protein is an amino acid since it's a polymer of amino acids. It's the same thinking and just as wrong.

Alchohol? (1)

scottrocket (1065416) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259730)

I wonder if it's more resistant to the very butanol it produces? Some yeasts seem to have a higher tolerance for the stuff. It'll be interesting to see which, if any of these technologies take off, or if they all wind up becoming unintended vaportech.

Re:Alchohol? (5, Informative)

eparker05 (1738842) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259926)

First off, if it is n-butanol that is being produced, the water solubility of n-butanol (at 25 C) would only allow a ~6% concentration, thus the rest would float to the surface and would be easily skimmed off in a moderately pure state. Now I don't know the temperature dependence of the solubility so perhaps this wouldn't be practical at fermentation temperatures.

Similar research is being done by Dr. Shota Atsumi et. al; they produced an organism with an engineered metabolic pathway which can produce isobutyraldehyde. This compound has a lower boiling point such that at the elevated temperatures of fermentation it is easily distilled from the culture without having to kill or filter the bacteria. Again, the issue of culture toxicity due to the metabolic product is avoided through in situ purification of the product.

Re:Alchohol? (1)

dvdwholesale3 (2432850) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260582)

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Re:Alchohol? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37261150)

Nobody seems to have mentioned what this fuel will give off when it is burned. If it still produces nasty greenhouse gases then it doesn't solve any problem that matters. The USA's dependancy on foreign oil isn't really a problem. The USA's attempts to end its dependency on foreign oil, on the other hand, have created big problems for the USA and many other parts of the world. Just buy the oil, for heavens sake. That might actually stimulate development of renewable alternatives by supply and demand pressures, which I understand most people in the USA believe in.

Re:Alchohol? (1)

wezelboy (521844) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261214)

Actually, it evens out. Since the fuel is obtained from plant matter, a large amount of CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere to create that plant matter. Petroleum taken out of the ground is bringing the greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere without taking any out.

Re:Alchohol? (2)

WhiteDragon (4556) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261286)

Nobody seems to have mentioned what this fuel will give off when it is burned. If it still produces nasty greenhouse gases then it doesn't solve any problem that matters.

But if it uses organic matter from plants, those plants have already pulled carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it "carbon-neutral".

wow, think of the impact this will have (3, Interesting)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259742)

So, we can turn old newspapers into fuel. This could create, I dunno, hundreds of gallons of fuel a year. Ok, let's say thousands. Ok ok ok, let's say a million gallons a year. This will surely make a dent in the 380 million gallons the US uses (www.eia.gov) every day.

I was going to say, this will be useful on an individual basis because it gives savvy people the opportunity to make their own fuel at home. I mean... wait a minute... I haven't bought a newspaper in probably six years. I guess I'll need to start stealing my neighbors' paper.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260116)

Obviously newspaper is not a source for serious mass production of fuel. On the other hand, there are plenty of cheap sources of cellulose. If this process is actually inexpensive when scaled up, then it could be a viable source for cheap biofuel simply by growing plants with the intention of feeding them to this bacteria. Of course, developing a process in a lab is very different from having a final industrialized form of the process.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260220)

Ok, but this goes back to the old debate -- are fuel crops a good use of land? Last I heard, even Algore doesn't believe that anymore.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (2)

willy_me (212994) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260284)

When growing food crops one is generally left with a large amount of left over cellulose - which is why it is generally cheap. We use it to feed cattle, as fertilizer - but really we just want to get rid of it. Being able to use this cellulose for fuel production would be a huge help and would not have an impact on food production.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (3, Informative)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260290)

Food crops used as fuel are different than fuel crops. Bamboo can grow like wild. All the leftover bits from corn production can be turned into fuel while the corn itself remains food. Plenty of hardy grasses can grow places that we'd never try to grow food. Almost every suburb in the country produces large quantities of grass clippings on land that won't be turned (back) into farmland any time soon.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260318)

That's actually the best answer I've heard so far. Although I suspect that the total practical national fuel output of a cellulose-to-fuel industry would still be several orders of magnitude less than the amount of fuel we actually use today.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260330)

Ok, but this goes back to the old debate -- are fuel crops a good use of land?

We can use (limited resource) to create fuel to transport ourselves, or to produce food to feed ourselves.

Is the answer the same no matter what (limited resource) is?

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260418)

> Is the answer the same no matter what (limited resource) is?

Good question. I'd say, it depends on whether one can eat (limited resource). In the case of... say... oil, for instance, I can't eat it, so it's a better candidate for transportation. And although I'm aware that the major cause of starvation is logistics (food is here, starving people are over there, and there's a difficult obstacle in the way, like for instance a hostile government) I think it's at very least in bad taste to burn our food for fuel when people are starving elsewhere.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260570)

Ok, but this goes back to the old debate -- are fuel crops a good use of land?

Is the answer the same no matter what (limited resource) is?

I'd say, it depends on whether one can eat (limited resource).

One can't eat land.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260630)

You're being obtuse. There's only a certain amount of usable land, and it has important uses significantly different from producing fuel -- to live on, to grow food, and things like greenspace for biodiversity. Oil, however, doesn't have much use outside the products of the petroleum industry.

The tide is turning against fuel crops. About the only thing keeping the current system going is government inertia.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260132)

Newspapers are not the only thing made out of cellulose. Any other source of cellulose could be used. Newspapers are just an example. Plus, you completely made up the million gallons a year number. You have no idea how much unused cellulose there is available and what the yield is.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260234)

Agreed. I made up the number "a million gallons a year". I think it'll actually be less. But let's say it's ten times more. Let's say it's a hundred times more. Ok, a thousand times more. It's still a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (2)

werfu (1487909) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260230)

Cellulose is part of every plant. Everything from cut grass to wood surplus and maze cane could be used to do it. This imply that a city could harvest lawn and convert it locally to fuel. This has a huge implication over fuel production.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260376)

How huge? Nationally we use 138 billion (with a b) gallons of gasoline a year. I don't have a breakdown for a medium size town, but I strongly suspect the process would be doing good producing enough gas to cut the lawn needed for the process. Not that this would be a bad thing. Hey, free gas for the lawnmowers. And the lawn is cut. But I think it's important to be realistic. We're several orders of magnitude short of the volume necessary to make any real difference in people's lives.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

werfu (1487909) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260436)

Lawn is a small example, but think about how much plant byproducts are trashed : food, leaves, wood, paper, cardboard. The implication is not only in generating fuel, but could give another twist to waste management. There's already process to convert general trash to fuel. Let's recycle what can be, than convert to fuel what need to be trashed. The only things left would be non organic materials like stone and metal. Let's also be realistic in saying that every plant waste can't be composted, as the compost needs to be used somewhere and farmers already have more than enough of animal fertilizer.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (2)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260476)

Actually, there's an interesting idea there. Converting the waste to fuel may never have a significant effect on the nation's fuel usage, but it could at least cause the process of waste management to be self-powered.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (3, Insightful)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260372)

I was thinking the same thing. 9 million barrels of gasoline comes to around 1.3 million tons per day, or just under 500 million tons per year. The article claims 'at least 323 million tons' of material would be available per year as feedstock, but it's not like all of that can be converted. A modest guess would say 5-10% of our current gasoline consumption could be offset by this mechanism, if it works as advertised. Far more desirable than your guess at 0.25%, but it won't be a "game changer". It will only be one of many technologies that will have to work together to become sustainable.

The bigger issue is that gasoline consumption is only about half of our yearly petroleum usage, and for some fields such as aviation, there is simply no alternative. The automotive and rail industries can use electric motors. Anything on a track can draw power straight off the grid, while cars can use heavy batteries. Aircraft don't have the luxury of weight, and our current batteries are a good order of magnitude too heavy to be used. A renewable fuel source for them would be far more important than for cars. Of course, if we convert everything else over to electric over the next few decades, there will be enough petroleum to last the aviation industry several centuries. Presumably we will have come up with something to replace the kerosene fired gas turbine by then.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (4, Insightful)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260598)

Why does everyone keep focusing on the newspapers? Usually things that start with 'such as' aren't exclusive. The summary also mentions grass clippings. So grass clippings and newspaper may not make a dent but since about 33% of all plant matter is made up of cellulose I don't think getting the cellulose would be a problem.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260642)

380 million gallons per day. So many good ideas run afowl of orders of magnitude.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260752)

So many good ideas run afowl of orders of magnitude.

Well, at least you've got lots of chickens.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (4, Interesting)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260892)

Yes that's a big number (and only a 1/4 of the what the world uses as a whole) and would probably be even more if the global economy hadn't been sluggish the last few years but I don't think it's orders of magnitude more than the amount of cellulose on the planet. I'm not presuming that we turn all plants into fuel but 33% of all plant matter is cellulose. While it's hard to come up with accurate numbers the earth's biomass, on the low end it would appear that cellulose would comprise about 40 billion tons. Of course for any honest consideration we would have to look at how much we could potentially collect and how much usable fuel we would get out of it.

Besides, orders of magnitude are not as overwhelming as they seem. Oil production today is orders of magnitude more than it was 100 years ago, yet somehow we got to where we are. Help me understand the reasoning in disparaging a technology in its infancy because it is not instant solution. 10% here and 10% there can add up. Humans will continue to use more and more energy (if history is any indication). I don't think anything needs to instantly supplant petroleum, we just need to keep finding new ways to get energy wherever we can.

Re:wow, think of the impact this will have (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261528)

> but I don't think it's orders of magnitude more than the amount of cellulose on the planet.

I don't either. But what amount of that cellulose could be practically processed into fuel? I mean, we could consider all the cellulose on the entire planet, but then, what would we breathe?

Mr. Fusion! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259752)

I've always wanted to run my car off that last ounce of warm beer left in most cans and bottles. Think you could work out a deal with local bars?

When the bacteria escapes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259780)

Wouldn't it turn all organic material on earth into fuel, if the bacteria escapes?

That is a serious question.

Re:When the bacteria escapes... (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260004)

Given that nature is, in rough approximation, a large mass of meat eating itself(with enough solar meat to save the system from heat death), I'm inclined to doubt it.

It would certainly try; but the world is already quite full indeed of vicious little organisms who want nothing more than to break the world down into its simple sugars, and the equally cunning countermeasures deployed against them by their intended victims. It is unlikely(though not 100%) impossible, that somebody's pampered little high-yield laboratory specialist would make much of a mark on the mean, mean, microbial streets...

Re:When the bacteria escapes... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260654)

Wouldn't it turn all organic material on earth into fuel, if the bacteria escapes?

This is a naturally occurring bacteria. The scientists didn't make it, they found it.

That is a serious question.

No it isn't. If it was a serious question you would have at least read the summary before posting.

Just burn in right away (2, Interesting)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259782)

Using bacteria (or any other process) to rearrange the chemical bonds of a substance doesn't come free. It consumes energy.

From an environmental point of view, they should simply send the newspapers to coal power plants and burn them along with the coal. Those power plants have conversion rates of heat to electricity on the order of 40%, instead of about 25% that internal combustion engines of cars have. But of course, this is not about the environment, or even CO2.

Instead there seems to be some despair about the cheap oil reserves slipping out of US control, especially after the failure of the Iraq war to secure US supplies. Otherwise nobody would pursue such follies as butanol from paper scraps or ethanol from corn. All this is made worse by the inability of US politicians to comprehend that it is perfectly possible to have a standard of living superior to that of the US while using just about half the amount of energy per capita.

Sure, it would be the end of the American way of life as the world knew it - but that one is over anyway. These days resources have to be shared with the rest of the world. That is, the other 6 billion people outside of the OECD. And that rest of the world is growing [wordpress.com] with little signs of halting or even slowing down.

Re:Just burn in right away (3, Informative)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260134)

Using bacteria (or any other process) to rearrange the chemical bonds of a substance doesn't come free. It consumes energy.

You mean like photosynthesis?

Re:Just burn in right away (1)

bored_engineer (951004) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260368)

It consumes energy.

It's decomposition that we're talking about here. Presumably, the materials are waste, so the only extra energy is probably small processing costs and transportation.

. . .such follies as butanol from paper scraps or ethanol from corn.

I see what you did there. Would you care to justify the comparison? I think that there are valid reasons to refer to the production of corn ethanol as folly, but I don't see the same case for the other.

. . .but that one is over anyway.

And here, we have the root of the matter. You don't like the lifestyle enjoyed in the US. Fine. Pardon if other people would like to continue the lifestyles that they currently enjoy. The cost of oil, driven up by increasing demand, is doing the job that you seem to want politicians to do. Residents of the US are already driving less without significantly altering their lifestyles. Don't be so bitter about it all, particularly when it's already getting better.

Re:Just burn in right away (2)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260420)

The problem is that powerplant is not next to my house. That electric is produced at 3Â to 9Â /kwhr less than 200 miles away, yet costs 25Â /kwhr at my house. The tank of gas I bought last week, got from a port in Texas 1000 miles to my car, price went from $2 to $2.50 ( plus 50Â in taxes.) I don't know where those costs went, but who cares fuel is just 30% efficient, if electric is 12% efficient, before getting into a vehicle.

Re:Just burn in right away (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 3 years ago | (#37261374)

but that would mean using electric cars instead of business as usual and burning fuel inside an engine to propel the car. You are just a radical thinker and just want to change things. ;-)

LoB

Many ways of making fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37259890)

There are many ways to make cheap fuel, but no method really succeeded on large scale because of interest conflicts with big oil companies, nuclear industry and governments. Please search on google and you'll find plenty of solutions, sure some are fakes, but not all.

wait... (4, Funny)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#37259964)

aren't newspapers rarer than oil now?

Re:wait... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260406)

Quite right. That's why I'm buying them regularly and hoarding them for the inevitable price shock when the shortage of old newspaper reaches critical levels.

Seriously, your point is...?

Re:wait... (1)

TexVex (669445) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260648)

aren't newspapers rarer than oil now?

Eh, I've been hearing about potential "miracle bacteria" for decades now. To me this is just another load of over-hyped bullshit that we we won't hear about ever again, much like the crazy Thorium Car guy last month.

But, might as well: TFA did indicate it could potentially convert any plant-based material, newspaper being but one example.

Hey, why don't we turn this into a fantasy thread about how this could be good for marijuana legalization, 'cause you could harvest the sweet sweet buds and throw the rest into the vat to make fuel?

Re:wait... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260938)

'cause you could harvest the sweet sweet buds and throw the rest into the vat to make fuel?

But stoners don't want to go anywhere. So the fuel would be useless.

Re:wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37261266)

Yeah, but there's these large warehouses called "libraries" now obsolete we can use.

one step closer (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260060)

It's one step closer to Mr. Fusion

Paper is already fuel (1)

dbet (1607261) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260224)

Right? We powered locomotion by burning wood long before we powered it by burning oil.

grass clippings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37260240)

This bacteria could allow virtually any plant product, such as newspaper or grass clippings, to be used to produce fuel for conventional vehicles."

So... I could just make a chute for my lawn tractor's discharge that would go directly into the fuel tank, and it would be more or less self-powered? Neat.

More than just Paper (1)

Lifyre (960576) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260308)

It will use almost ANY plant matter. Farming waste such as corn stalks or grass clippings and fallen leaves from your lawn for example. Pretty much any place that can grow seasonal plants such as grasses can now be a source for fuel.

but what of the children foraging in landfills? (1)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260316)

I'm picturing massive fires in landfills nationwide.

More to paper than cellulose (5, Interesting)

b4thyme (1120461) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260340)

A larger component percentage of the fiber in newsprint is hemi-cellulose and lignin than cellulose. Newsprint is generally made in a mechanical process rather than a chemical process so you are going to be left with all the turpentine and tall oil in the pulp as well. Are you going to just burn the rest? It seems awfully wasteful given how expensive your process is going to be. It is generally accepted that when it comes to newsprint, it is better to burn it than to recycle it as the fuel expended in the collection of it and energy and chemicals expended to de-ink it outweigh the value of the crappy chewed up fiber you get from recovering it. I am a process engineer in a paper mill

brilliant idea (2)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260498)

I don't believe this will ever actually get fuel to the pump in any reasonable quantity, but if someone ever invents a roomba powered by dog hair, I'm definitely in line for that.

But I suspect it'd weigh 800 pounds and you'd have to feed three medium-sized dogs to it to get your living room vacuumed.

Re:brilliant idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37261240)

That's okay. A single medium-sized dog produces three times its weight in hair each week anyway.

So, is the ereoi negative or positive... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#37260600)

and what about the cost? When I can get 5800000 Btu out of a barrel of it for 85 bucks or so, do let me know.

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