In translating and collating what I have in my library about hydrolyzing wood cellulose to get fermentable sugars, it occurred to me that there is a much better source of cellulose than wood, and that using it would allow two birds to be killed with one stone. I refer of course to waste paper. Most waste paper is newsprint, which is short-fiber “mechanical” pulp made from ground wood. When repulsed, it has to be mixed with a large proportion of new fiber to make decent paper because of the short fibers. It also contains a lot of lignin and other unstable compounds, so that paper made from it is unstable as well as weak. With mandatory recycling going into effect in many places, the “price” of recycled newsprint is going negative in some areas – that is, the pulp mills must be paid to take it. Other uses are being found for it – mulching, insulation – but basically it goes begging.

Now imagine a paper-alcohol plant attached to a biodiesel plant. Not only can the ethanol be used for biodiesel production, but the residue still contains some lignin, which can give methanol on dry distillation. The unfermentable sugars give furfural and other compounds useful in organic synthesis.

Everybody wins:

  • community recycling projects can start getting paid again (and the politicians who pushed through mandatory recycling without considering the consequences can start breathing again).
  • ethanol is produced without any impact on agricultural commodity prices.

A friend of mine 20 years ago used to re-pulp newspaper strips in a kitchen blender and then squeeze all the water out in a potato “ricer” and then let these little cookies dry in the sun…in Colorado. He called them Fire Cookies and he used to burn them directly in his charcoal grille and cook hamburgers with them. I tried it myself and they do work pretty well. Not messy and as I recall you don’t need lighter fluid to get them going…just a match. So is there any light there with this scheme? What are the big drawbacks? An hydraulic press would squeeze a lot more water out than a hand operated ricer so drying could be made easier. In fact, why not make logs from the stuff instead of cookies?

This is perfectly sound from the energy point of view – once the cookies are dried out (harder to reach than you might think) you capture all the energy in the original material, less that spent on processing it. But for some applications things like suitability for mechanical feeding can be more important.

You can make alcohol from the sulphite liquors that are a by product of the pulping process. we’ve done pilot trials at the Champion paper mill. its viable.. making alcohol from paper is also viable but nasty, needing sulphuric acid hydrolysis and special treatments to break down all the complex sugars (zylenene, zylose, etc.) very nasty dangerous and expensive. cellulose hydrolysis using enzymes is also possible but yields are too low for commercialization, pulp can be digested into methane, but there are countless other usus that are more practical, paper insulation, soil amendments, paper crete, paper as a filler for resin impregnated products, ive made structural panels from corrugated cardboard, pelletised solid fuel for stoves, shredded fuel for gasifiers, etc and i suspect that.some of the fast food restaurants must use it as a substitute for food LOL!