People have been saying for years that all is lost for the poor old print industry; it’s been a dying medium since the mean old Internet nudged its giant, free elbows into the living rooms, dens, coffee shops, offices, and every other corner of polite society. Gone are the days when despotic newspaper tycoons like William Randolph Hearst wielded unchecked power upon their mortal subordinates with print-smudged fists of fury. Hearing “you’ll never work in this town again” was an utterance that exerted spine-chilling gravity from such titans of industry, but now even poor 983-year-old Emperor Palpatine wannabe Rupert Murdoch can’t catch a break when he tries to threaten anyone taller than a growth-stunted tufted titmouse these days.
As it turns out, however, there’s something that newspapers can actually do lots better than the Internet could ever hope to achieve. Thanks to countless hours of research by thick-goggled, whopper-noggined eggheads at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, our cars could actually someday run on recycled scraps of newspaper! These mad, mad, mad, mad scientists have discovered that a bacterial strain known as TU-103 (Sir Mix-a-Lot and C-3PO were already taken) can be used to convert newspaper into the biofuel butanol. In fact, TU-103 is the first bacteria discovered that can directly turn cellulose — an organic compound found in newspapers (among many other materials) — into butanol. This is an enormous advantage over other ways of producing butanol, as any methods employed up until now have required production in oxygen-free spaces, which are expensive to maintain.
Butanol is also a much more economically and environmentally sound biofuel than the commonly used corn sugar-produced ethanol; it can run in engines usually powered by gasoline without modification, is less corrosive, and packs more energy by volume — which increases overall mileage.
Researcher Harshad Velankar elaborates: “Cellulose is found in all green plants, and is the most abundant organic material on earth, and converting it into butanol is the dream of many. In the United States alone, at least 323 million tons of cellulosic materials that could be used to produce butanol are thrown out each year.”
An interesting sidenote: TU-103 was first discovered and cultivated from animal droppings. Its poetic relation to the state of the modern print industry is really quite telling…