By John O’Dell – Edmunds Auto Observer®
WASHINGTON– In the shadow of Capitol Hill, a pair of companies this week introduced what they called the first advanced biofuel made from government waste – paper trash garnered from government agencies’ recycling bins.
The fuel, a form of cellulosic ethanol, looks to be one that is could help solve energy and environmental challenges without negatively impacting the food chain – a major criticism of corn-based ethanol that now predominates in the U.S. biofuels industry.
“This is what we need to be doing if we want to avoid putting things in landfills,” said Joanne Ivanic, executive director of Advanced Biofuels USA, a non-profit that promotes biofuel use. “You hear a lot that there’s no magic bullet, but there’s a silver shotgun. This is one of the shotgun pellets of how we can think about recycling.”
The biofuel is made from waste paper, cardboard and packaging processed by Virginia-based Fiberight, a waste processing company, in partnership with the Danish firm Novozymes.
Fiberight takes office waste and pulps, treats and washes it to extract metals, plastic and foodstuffs. The final product is a fluffy substance, rich in cellulose, that looks like shredded cardboard.
Fiberight then uses enzymes from Novozymes to convert the cellulose into sugars which are fermented into ethanol. Bioplastics and fertilizer pellets are by-products of the process, which produces a fuel that contains up to 90 percent less CO2 than gasoline.
The paper-based ethanol is blended withgasoline to make E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
The companies demonstrated it in a pair of flex-fuel vehicles – a Ford F150 pickup and a Chevrolet HHR.
“Biofuels have a tremendous future for energy security, jobs and sustainable fuel,” Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America, said in introducing the paper-based fuel at the 2010 Washington Auto Show on Tuesday. “If it’s going to happen, it comes down to enzymes,” which are needed to break down the tough cellulose.
The company has received two grants totaling $14.5 million from the Energy Department to fund research aimed at bringing down the cost of the specialized enzymes it produces for cellulose conversion.
Americans generate enough paper waste to produce 8 billion gallons of “trashanol” a year if all of it was used for that purpose, said Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight’s chief executive.
The typical family of four produces enough waste a year to make fuel to drive 8,000 miles, he said.
Perhaps because it’s government officials that it is trying to influence with its appearance at the D.C. auto show, the company didn’t provide estimates of how much paper waste is produced by an agency such as, oh, the Energy Department.
Stuart-Paul did say, though, that Fiberight has a pilot plant in Iowa that could eventually produce 10 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year, and that it is planning more such plants. “We’re talking about waste that otherwise would be burned or go into a hole in the ground,” he said.