Newspapers to Fuel Cars

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Yesterday's news could be tomorrow's fuel.

Tulane University scientists discovered a strain of clostridia bacteria, dubbed "TU-103," that can devour old newspapers to produce butanol, a substitute for gasoline.

Old editions of the Times Picayune, New Orleans' daily newspaper, have been successfully used by the researchers to produce butanol from the cellulose in the paper. Cellulose is a structural material in plants.

TU-103 is the first bacterial strain found in nature (not genetically engineered) to produce butanol directly from cellulose. It is also the only strain yet found that can grow in the presence of oxygen. Keeping bacterial fermentation chambers air tight makes other strains more expensive to work with.

"This discovery could reduce the cost to produce bio-butanol," said David Mullin, who's lab discovered the bacterial strain, in a Tulane press release.

"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," he added.

The newly discovered strain can be used to make fuel from any source of cellulose, not just paper. TU-103 was discovered in animal feces.

"Most important about this discovery is TU-103's ability to produce butanol directly from cellulose," said Mullin.

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Cellulose biofuels have advantages over ethanol from corn and sugar cane. It doesn't compete for crop land, since cellulose containing plants can be grown on lands where other crops won't grow.

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Butanol is also superior to ethanol in several ways. It can be used without modifying automobile engines, and is less corrosive. Butanol also contains more energy than ethanol, so cars fueled by butanol won't lose miles-per-gallon, as they do with ethanol and ethanol blends like E85.

IMAGE 1: An old edition of the Times Picayune (Wikimedia Commons)

IMAGE 2: Butanol (Wikimedia Commons)

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