Used toilet paper is useless, or that is what everyone would have you believe, until now. Chemists researching and working at the University of Amsterdam’s sustainable research department have found a solution to convert waste toilet paper into, of all things, electricity! This stunning discovery was made by a joint effort by the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, who have published their finding in the journal of Energy Technology. Let’s have a look at what this case entails and what impact it could have in the future.
Basics of the case
Waste toilet paper is often ignored and yet statistics state that it accounts for a lot of environmental polluting- air, water and even soil. In Western Europe for example every individual produces about 10-14 kilos of toilet paper waste every year. However, and this is a well known fact, waste paper has some redeeming qualities. For one it is a great source of carbon and can be used as a source to create renewable electricity. Consider this: the amount of waste paper in the Amsterdam region accumulated yearly is enough to power around six and a half thousand homes. And Netherlands is one of the cleanest countries on the planet. Consider countries like India or China which leave a massive carbon and waste footprint due to their populations: The amount of waste paper accumulated could light up a small town.
Why waste paper is gold
Having stated the above, one point that needs to be mentioned is that unlike other renewable sources of energy, waste paper is literally omnipresent. As exciting as renewable energy is it is also only periodically available. Plants need to harvest which needs time, sufficient sunlight and water. Sunlight is, only available twelve hours a day, and is highly dependent on the region, and wind power is only as good as the weather on that day. But waste paper is everywhere, and there is an abundance of it at our disposal. Like coal to a steam engine, it can be gathered and consumed, and the process repeated.
Generating electricity through waste paper
The project undertaken by Amsterdam University is a two step process proposal. According to them, when calculated on a cost per kWH basis with other sources, they claim waste paper will not only work, but would also be more efficient and cheaper.
The first step would involve the gasification of the waste paper after which the second step would involve converting the waste paper gas into electricity. The team went to great lengths to put their point across which included a thorough look into the process design, overall energy balance data and an economic analysis as well. The calculations put forth by them show an overall efficiency over other renewable sources.
According to the published report in the Journal Technology, the overall efficiency is 57%, which is pretty similar to natural gas. The cost of electricity generated stands at 20.30 cents/kWh which is comparable to other sources. However the operating costs are relatively low and future predictions would make it even lower.
The team stated that there is clearly a future in turning waste toilet paper into electricity. As of now no company has officially invested in this development but the team believes things will change when more people become aware of this. The team is also taking their findings to other places and believe places like China could use their idea.
The research and its findings have gathered much press and for obvious reasons. Topics like renewable energy, climate change and its effects and sustainable efforts are on everyone’s minds in this day and age.
Renewable energy is a topic hotly debated today in this globalized, technologically advanced, and yet reeling in other ways planet that we inhabit. Waste paper is a hazard in its own way and if it can be used practically to create something new, then it clearly makes sense to consider this option. As stated in the study, there is clearly a way to utilize it on a much larger scale, and if put into practice, this idea could really do wonders for sustainability and waste disposal.