Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Oct 01

Getting Biofuel from the World’s Garbage

Posted in Biofuels | Ethanol Fuel | Waste to Energy

Biofuel from Garbage There is plenty of garbage on this planet; in fact there is so much garbage that many developed countries are trying to dump their garbage on the lands of lesser developed countries, at a fee of course. But does dumping garbage on other places solve the problem? On the contrary it spreads pollutions and diseases. In fact it is more dangerous to dump garbage in the less developed countries (because there are neither technologies available to process it nor enough awareness). Even creating landfills wastes precious resources.

Rather than having to dump, what if garbage can be used to generate power?

Global Change Biology has published new research that claims replacing gasoline with biofuel from processed garbage could cut global carbon emissions by 80%. A dream come true, isn’t it?

Great strides are being made in the field of creating biofuels but a galling problem is that the biofuel production causes food shortage. Additionally, farmers are adopting controversial techniques and methods to increase their production and rather than helping the climate, it is harming it.

But garbage is abundantly available, fortunately or unfortunately. Second-generation biofuels like cellulosic ethanol obtained from processed urban waste may the sort of solution that kills two birds with one stone (just an expression, throwing stones at birds and killing them is bad): take care of the garbage and produce fuel.

According to the study author Associate Professor Hugh Tan of the National University of Singapore, “Our results suggest that fuel from processed waste biomass, such as paper and cardboard, is a promising clean energy solution.”

He further says, “If developed fully this biofuel could simultaneously meet part of the world’s energy needs, while also combating carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency.”

Data from the United Nation’s Human Development Index and the Earth Trends database was used to arrive at an estimate of how much waste is produced in 173 countries and how much fuel the same countries annually require.

The research team has calculated that 82.93 billion liters of cellulosic ethanol can be produced by the available landfill waste in the world and the resulting biofuel can reduce global carbon emissions in the range of 29.2% to 86.1% for every unit of energy produced.

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

  • Mary Ann


  • Warren Shoemaker

    Indeed there is great potential in converting waste to fuel. However, it’s NOT true that biofuel has caused a food shortage. Simply not true. More likely by supporting the price of grain, biofuel demand supports farming, which in turn will increase food supply, especially in developing countries which should be able to produce more food.

    It’s also NOT realistic that landfills would be mined for biofuel feedstock. New technologies will process waste before it gets to the landfill.

  • Galo E. Ortega J-

    Very interesting, I would like to learn some more. We can start a local enterprise with this idea.

  • andy

    In affluent countries, yes, biofuels do not affect consumption. However, in third world countries, the small rise in the price of some crops means they are no longer affordable.

  • Boneheaded1

    Some municipalities do something similar but not with ethanol, but with methane. I’m not saying this is a bad idea but for developed nations and especially large urban areas, Plasma Gasification is the way to go when it comes to our garbage. Actually, all three are important; recycling, ethanol/bio-gas production and Plasma Gasification.

    Recycling extends our resources (metals, paper products). Ethanol/bio-gas production makes use of any compostable materials (yard waste, food scraps) to produce energy through bio-gas/ethanol and limit the methane (better at global warming than CO2) release into the atmosphere as it sits and decomposts in landfills. Plasma Gasification could be used on the non compostables and non-recyclables; plastics, foams, tires, etc. to create syn-gas.

    As I say on this site all the time. No one thing is going to be cure all for whatever ill we are talking about. It will take several methods to replace the easy ways, we’ve been doing it.

  • Felix Staratschek

    The article does not show clear, which kind of garbage is ment. The rests from flowers, animals and furnitures could be changed to fuel or biogas. This would be a true biofuel.

    But if you regard paper, there is the question, what is better, saving trees and resources by recycling or saving oil by making fuel.

    Whats about plastics? They could be changed to fuel to. But the synthesis of plastics needs a lot of energy. It could be much better to create a good recycling, than to change plastics into fuel. Because the fuel from plastics produce the need for new plastic- production, recycling delivers plastics and saves the production- energy. So paper and plastics could be baf resources for biofuel.

    See . This is the copy from a lecture text from scientists, which are engaged in en environmental economy.

  • Ossie Sharon

    This is going on here in Israel, too. We’re also working on a project to harness air pollution into a source of clean energy.

  • Eric Spindler

    Biofuel is counterproductive. Any time you have to burn something to create something, you use more energy than you produce. People are starving in many countries but we are willing to burn things that could feed them… for a fuel?

  • Asaka Jerry

    I agree with Splinder’s point of view but I also wish to point out that ethically it wont b humane 2 feed fellow human beings on waste. unless u approach it differently like is the case with second hand clothing. most food is perishable and we run the risk of feeding fellow human beings with rotten food. we may need 2 explore other ethical ways of doing this. in the mean time getting biofuel from the world’s garbage 2 me sounds a very noble thing.

  • Vassil Keremidchiev

    Producing fuel could be chemical process without much energy. It depends on the process.

  • Thom Epps

    I didn’t read in the article where it said we were burning anyone’s food source. I agree that traditional biofuels, aka corn ethanol, are nowhere near a solution, but I believe this article proposes getting cellulosic sources from garbage and using those for ethanol. Cellulose makes up about 50% of the planet’s biomass, so I’d imagine some can be had from what is already in landfills.

    There is also much biofuel research being done on switchgrass, a hardy source of cellulosic ethanol that grows rapidly and anywhere (grasses are resilient!). I think if this was grown on highway medians and shoulders, it could be harvested and used easily.

    However, I also feel like the use of better “fuels” doesn’t really get at our energy/pollution problems. I personally feel that a switch toward electric cars should be pushed forward, so that then all of our focus can be placed on developing large scale clean energy at the utility level and to strengthen the power grid. That way you consolidate the point sources of energy pollution to the stacks at the plants instead of each individual tailpipe, a much more manageable task.

  • Jim Barnes

    Has anyone heard of zelfo ? instead of using plastic bags,cellophane and lots of nasty chemicals zelfo which is a cellulose plastic made from pulped plant stems/recycled paper, can be made into packaging for food elimanating a large part of the plastic waste made by major consumer countries,sure using biofuel made from food scraps etc is a good way of generating fuel but reducing the volume of unrecyclable waste or better finding an alternative to plastic is key to getting waste to managable levels.zelflo once used can be put into wter and in a day or two break back down to cellulose and be used again. less plastic used ..and creates a secondary crop for farmers globally who can sell the stalks to make zelfo.

  • Ana Margarita Perez Martin

    Here in Venezuela, we are still in their infancy. The extraordinary oil revenues and partisan politics have distracted attention from the serious problems caused by environmental pollution. The population lacks the culture of recycling and for government there are other more important things! Even the fact that garbage makes money, has been enough to pay attention to this serious problem.

  • Lori Latimer

    Methane gas is the result of garbage + water + heat. Not so many people can get rich or regulate, so it is burned off 24 hours a day.

  • Cary Davis

    I live six miles away from 2 superfund sites. It is good to see them capped and plumbed for the methane they are producing.

  • Joshua A. Lowery

    My company has been implementing these projects here in the US Midwest for the past two years. It has great potential and could use some process refinement. We have found that the biggest issue is the inconsistency of the materials found in landfills/dumps which when they chemically react the quality of the “sweet” gases varies wildly at times. However, I believe if communities would sort their refuse into types/ bio-degradeability rates and use some artificial compression beds the quality and quantities would increase to more efficient and less expensive levels. Just remember that most of these type projects will require some gas booster systems to maintain process pressures and safety features.

    Also, there is great potential in cogen/spirulina algae/tilapia growth projects. Existing coal fire power plants can route their exhaust gases (mainly CO2) into spirulina algae growth process chambers where the algae feeds on the CO2 gases, then the spirulina can be fed to tilapia farms tanks where two bio-products of the process occurs: food for the masses and the waste can produce biodiesel (since these process areas would already be near the power plant, the electricity required to produce the bio-diesel could be supplied off the waste side of the generators). Also, anyway waste heat could be captured in air to air heat exchangers (see Exothermics—they have some great technologies) to heat the spirulina and tilapia processes so this could be done even in the coldest environments.

  • Jim Fay

    While inspecting natural gas systems for leaks, a friend of mine found so much methane coming out of the ground at an elementary school, they were able to divert and collect it to heat the building. It had recently been built one an old dump

  • Andy Cipollo

    One of our companies, Atlas Landfill Energy Corporation, turns collected garbage and existing trash dumps into energy-producing sources, not only of electricity but also of drinking water, salt (brine), gas and carbon-based products. Visit for more details.

  • Joshua A. Lowery

    Janae, a family size generator is possible. However (you knew that was coming right!?! :-)), a standard family (say 4.5 people excluding animals/livestock/fisheries) does not create enough waste bio-mass to sustain the necessary gas levels, quantities, and qualities for day-to-day use. With that being said, a family could use the bio-mass generator… Read More to supplement other technologies as a “power booster”. Example: use solar water heaters, solar electric cells w/ battery storage on site, ground effect cooling methods (if you local strata can support drilling or digging), and in-home heat recyclers in your HVAC system (think of residential size heat recovery wheels)—All of these can be low voltage systems. Now back to your bio-mass generator and how it will supplement the low-voltage endeavors. Lets assume you are growing your own gardens/ keep all your grass clippings/etc. it will take a certain amount of time, pressure, and enzymatic/chemical reactants to break down the bio-mass to release the useable “sweet” gases in sufficient quantities for the generator (whether it is boiler generator or otherwise) to operate efficiently enough to charge up heavier duty power cells, run pumps for water tower/hydrodynamic power schemas, perform advanced heat loading, etc. Depending on the consistencies of the bio-mass will dictate what type of “recipes” your family will have to come up with regards to how to plan for predictable energy yields and meeting storage/power requirements of your household. All this is possible, now, convincing manufacturers to produce these technologies in sufficient enough quantities is another story. In the law of supply and demand, the cost of the supply will go down to being affordable as the demand goes up (along with more manufacturing competition be available). So, how do we increase demand? People need to stop thinking that chemistry, physics, basic engineering, etc. is beyond them… it is not! It just takes time and effort. Once you have an understanding, the rest can fall in to place abit easier.

  • Jennifer Pennock

    Once again, solving two problems! Very innovative.

  • Errol Radebe

    Developed countries have a tendency of abusing underdeveloped countries at the same time pretending to care. we need to start taking positive things into our own hands i.e. we need to be at the forfront in supporting renewable energy sources.

  • Millercs

    If you’re interested in efforts to produce biofuels and biopower from waste of all kinds I refer you to the BIOenergy BlogRing starting with the BIOwaste Blog at . The important issues are: What control should we exercise to insure that any waste that can be recycled is before the post-recyclables are converted to recover their energy? What must be done to insure that the conversion technology does not emit toxins like dioxins, NOx, and SOx?

  • John Spencer

    Glad to see the continued effort for use of our solid wastes.

    As one said there is no one solution for everything. ‘

    The first step is to not create waste in the first place. I am appalled by how much garbage I produce. Our garbage can is full each week. I have one of the big ones, probably 100 gallons (3 regular garbage cans). It weighs a lot for sure. Each one of use can and should reduce our solid waste, and one way to do it is to try and reduce the amount of products we buy which ultimately create waste. Packaging is the biggest culprit. In this case a bigger package wins in terms of the amount of solid waste for product purchased. My collection company has said no light weight boxes, like cereal boxes, beer/soda cartons, boxes of pasta, rice and on and on. Why? Well these materials cannot be recycled too well as they have a lot of inks on them. They also are not too healthy burning for the same reason, ink. There is less packaging per weight of product if you buy a larger size.

    Second of course is recycle. A recent statistic says we recycle only 20% of what can be recycled. At least in my neighborhood, nearly all off the families have recycle bins.

    Plastics, recycle everything you can. I rinse out just about everything, except for things like peanut butter. Same for cans. I peel the label off so as to not have this burn.

    I do all this yet there is still way too much waste in my garbage. I guess I have to start working on it more.

    Lastly though, then we can turn this waste into energy. There are not many incinerators around. I recently saw a video about the largest one in the US if not the world located in New Jersey. It it incredible how much garbage it burns each day, generating huge amounts of electricity. Yet we continue to fill landfills everywhere. Too bad. Maybe more will be built.

    Unfortunately plastic recycling is not a very good energy saver. It takes a lot of energy to melt the plastic, plus a lot of effort to sort it into different types. Metal cans are much more efficient to recycle versus mining the metals from the ground.

  • Richard marchitto

    There is a company that can take garbage all kinds, and turn the heat generated by use of the Biosphere process to electrical energy. It is in use today in many countries even the USA. There is no harmful escape of pollutants and the ash produced can be used in concrete. The company’s symbol is GEECF.

  • Neal Van Milligen

    It is no trick to make electric power, heat, clean water and other products including liquid fuel from waste products. It only requires the commitment of capital to fund the process.

    A 1MW gasification power plant can be put in operation for about $3,000,000 USD consuming about 30 tons of sorted trash per day. Revenue from power generation can pay a net of $800,000 per year at $.13 kW power revenue and depending on the cost of fuel processing.

    Neal Van Milligen
    Bioten Power and Energy Group

  • John Spencer

    Though I agree with the simplicity of making electric, I have to warn you about quoting electric rates for savings. If you use the electricity yourself to displace electricity purchased from the electric company, then you are probably pretty close. However if you sell the electricity back to the power company, depending on what State you live in you will get different sales prices, some as low as 4 cents/kwh. Not all States require power companies to buy the electricity you make, they might take it for what their generation costs are which is typically about 1/3 the total cost of electricity you buy.

  • Max

    I think that our goal should be to actually reduce the amounts of garbage that we’re producing.

  • Chris Hooymans

    I always said “Don’t worry, the landfills of today will be the stripmines of tomorrow” and so it happens.

  • Dave

    Technology is available to convert Municipal solid Waste to green coal in Europe. Government and enterprise must be willing to invest to solve waste problems. Garbage is a worldwide problem.

    Any one interested in this Technology can contact me.

  • deepak

    Dear Dave, In Mumbai alone 6500 MT of waste is generated daily! I live in Chandigarh (North India) and a garbage processing plant failed miserably even after spending millions. Can You suggest the answer. How to contact you?

  • james brown

    Even though lot changes comes with advance technology in daily life. Simple and short concept.
    e.g.: when you travel in train or bus for a long period you need to buy water bottle or cool drinks plastics bags. After u suppose to throw the bottle while travelling. This u alone thinks of the 8.32 million people in India and 100 million people all over the world buying and throwing concept. Save the plastic bags by putting snacks bags in one area when the next station comes or next stops.

  • Louis Barnard

    I have developed a very effective method to turn solid waste into a very cheap and useful fuel… excellent for household cooking and space- and water heating. Industry may recycle their own waste to save energy by the same technology. We are now in discussions with government and other organisations in South Africa to get this available to all.

  • Erik

    Andy Cipollo and is a scam.

  • Tenzin Choephel

    wow! that was wonderful, i always think why don’t we change the waste to energy. So today it did i love it

  • nihaar

    How expensive is this cause if it is not then its surprising why is it not common?
    What are the disadvantages of using it in developing countries like India?

  • Neal Van Milligen

    Nihaar, conversion of waste to energy can be along several paths. Ethanol from the organic fraction of the waste stream is simple fermentation. Heat and electricity via gasification is old technology brought back for today. A simple gasifier can use a wide variety of waste material as fuel in a clean process to replace natural gas for heat and power. On a small scale all of this is very economical.

    Would you like us to help you?

    Neal Van Milligen
    New Range Power Corp

  • R L Dam

    Energy from waste will be viable proposition provided the technology available are affordable and functional.
    Would like to know where i can get more study material, name & contact person whom can be contacted for such technological equipment.

  • GGmail

    Awesome Stuff. Currently working on a plant with the UN to generate one of these plants in Central America.

  • GGmail

    Awesome Stuff. Currently working on a plant with the UN to generate one of these plants in Central America.

    • SandHill Recycling

      Would you have any information relating to the use of shredded construction/demolition debris (C&D). We have developed a unique way of condensing our landfill waste which contains approximately 65% wood and would like to see if there is a possibility of it being used as a fuel source. If so reply to Thanks!

  • Kevin O’Connor

    Somebody help me. Some articles say Methane is a CO2 generator, but others say we should use biogas from waste. so which is it? Is producing biogas and using it to create steam to drive a generator CO2 sensible?

  • chris b

    GG, am looking to helping Africa with a project like that. I will be very happy if we can corresponde

  • OM

    This is really nice, How much will it cost to setup a project of this magnitude.


    i really want these awesome technology in AFRICA,especially my country GHANA

  • Sudhir Singh

    I really want to these technology in my country India.

  • Rajat Sharma

    i want to work on this as my college project so please give me some guidelines

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