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Global rubbish could reduce our dependence on oil

Landfill CompactorIs turning to trash for fuel a sign that we’re getting smarter about sustainability and smart energy use … or an indication that we’ve become increasingly desperate for our next energy “hit” as fossil fuels overheat the planet and go into decline?

Scientists from Singapore and Switzerland are leaning toward the first answer, arguing in a new research report that processing waste into biofuel could reduce oil consumption and cut global carbon emissions by 80 per cent. Their study is published in the journal Global Change Biology: Bioenergy.

“Our results suggest that fuel from processed waste biomass, such as paper and cardboard, is a promising clean energy solution,” said study author Hugh Tan, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore. “If developed fully, this biofuel could simultaneously meet part of the world’s energy needs, while also combating carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency.”

The researchers used the United Nations’ Human Development Index to estimate how much waste is generated in 173 countries. They then coupled that data to the Earthtrends database to estimate the amount of gasoline consumed in those same countries.

The team found that 82.93 billion litres of cellulosic ethanol could be produced from the world’s landfill waste. Further, by substituting gasoline with such biofuel, global carbon emissions could be cut by a range of 29.2 to 86.1 per cent for every unit of energy produced.

“If this technology continues to improve and mature, these numbers are certain to increase,” said co-author Lian Pin Koh from ETH Zürich. “This could make cellulosic ethanol an important component of our renewable energy future.”

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