Paper Power

Have you been bombarded with catalogues this Holiday Season as the online and mail shopping has hit record highs? It’s clearly good news for the Post Office if they capture some of the product delivery business as well as delivering the catalogues.

Recycling is another problem and it’s not as easy with glossy paper as the clays and inks are difficult to remove. The contents of your crosscut shredder are even more problematical as many facilities can’t handle the confetti-like pieces so they end up in landfill.

A new solution may be rushing towards us from Sony according to a BBC report (1). They have devised a bio-digester power plant, which was on show last week in a miniaturized form. The system is based on enzymes from the class cellulase, which chop up the cellulose chains making up the paper into the individual glucose building blocks.

Lots of species live on cellulose and have to produce the enzymes to break it down. Fungi, termites and cows are all examples of cellulose users. Once the glucose is produced, they use it for energy, and Sony have put together a system for enzymic oxidation of the glucose to produce electrical energy.

The reported byproducts aren’t too unpleasant. The main one is gluconolactone  (for the foodies amongst us, that is E575), which  hydrolyses to gluconic acid when in water (good for pickling).

I can envisage a brave new world where we power our computers from old catalogues and shredded correspondence from the political arena, and then strain the liquid byproduct into jars to pickle our cabbage and cucumbers prior to tossing the solid waste onto the compost pile to grow more cabbages. We may need to add a solar cell or two to fill in for the one or two weeks a year when our mail boxes aren’t filled.

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