Washington: A new study has found that if all of 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.
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 micro-organisms.
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.
The researchers said that this amount of paper could provide 5-12 million litres of biofuel, enough to run a bus for up to 18 million kilometres.
“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,” Science Daily quoted study author Dr Richard Murphy from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London as saying.
“Our research shows that it would be feasible to build waste paper-to-biofuel processing plants that give energy back as transport fuel,” he said.
“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,” Dr Murphy added.
Across the year, around 60 percent 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.
The study will be published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Energy and Environmental Science.