Making Paper Sustainably
The traditional method of paper production used wood but it is deemed damaging to the environment from beginning to end. A new kind of environmentally sound method for paper production is making headlines. Its base material is from pervasive agricultural waste – elephant and cow manure.
This interesting discovery is headed by a researcher from Austria who asserted that the dung of these animal contains cellulose that is the primary material for paper manufacturing.
According to Alexander Bismarck, Ph.D. from the University of Vienna, Austria, these agricultural animals eat low-grade biomass containing cellulose, chew it and expose it to enzymes and acid in their stomach, and then produce manure.
Bismarck said, “Depending on the animal, up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible.”
Aside from that, much less energy and fewer chemical treatments should be needed to turn this partially digested material into cellulose nanofibers, relative to starting with raw wood.
All this sounds good for an environmentally sound and amazing innovation!
Cow and Elephant Manure Perfect for Paper Production
The world now is going green and the business sector is keen to create products that are environmentally sound. Making paper out of upcycling manure from agricultural farms and parks in Africa is a good idea especially where trees are scarce.
This brilliant concept was confirmed by Andreas Mautner, Ph.D., one of the authors, who said parks in Africa are home to hundreds of elephants that produce tons of dung every day, and enormous cattle farms in the U.S. and Europe yield mountains of manure. Thus, manure of cows and elephants can be utilized for paper production.
How did the researchers make paper out of manure?
The researchers treat the manure with a sodium hydroxide solution. This partially removes lignin – which can be used later as a fertilizer or fuel – as well as other impurities, including proteins and dead cells. To fully remove lignin and to produce white pulp for making paper, the material has to be bleached with sodium hypochlorite. The purified cellulose requires little if any grinding to break it down into nanofibers in preparation for use in paper, in contrast to conventional methods.
“You need a lot of energy to grind wood down to make nanocellulose,” Mautner says. But with manure as a starting material, “you can reduce the number of steps you need to perform, simply because the animal already chewed the plant and attacked it with acid and enzymes. You inexpensively produce a nanocellulose that has the same or even better properties than nanocellulose from wood, with lower energy and chemical consumption,” he says.
The dung-derived nanopaper could be used in many applications, including as reinforcement for polymer composites or filters that can clean wastewater before it’s discharged into the environment, Bismarck says. His team is working with an industrial consortium to further explore these possibilities. The nanopaper could also be used to write on, he says.