April 11, 2021     

DATA DIVE: Can We Turn Cardboard into Biofuel?

The wealth of information available to today’s energy professionals can seem overwhelming at times. With so much coming at you at once, where should you direct your attention? Each issue,’s Data Dive features one informational report, study or survey worthy of closer inspection.

According to an article in Fast Company, we may soon be able to recycle cardboard boxes into biofuel. This breakthrough would further reduce garbage and the current glut of cardboard in recycling centers, and provide another path to a greener future.

Cardboard is made from lignocellulose, or plant matter, which is considered the most abundant raw material for the production of biofuels. Lignocellulose contains the sugars xylose and glucose, the latter of which is a building block for biofuels. Unfortunately, about one-third of the sugar inside cardboard is xylose, which, historically, has been extremely difficult to use in biofuel production. However, that may be about to change.  

Scientists at the Clean Energy Research Center, Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Seoul have developed a microorganism that can convert both xylose and glucose from lignocellulose into lipids that can be used in biodiesel. In laymen’s terms, the scientists bred yeast that turns the sugar in cardboard into fat for biodiesel.  

If this method can be proven successful at commercial scale, it would be useful not only for recycling cardboard and paper, but any cellulosic biomass. Therefore, the implications for plant-based biodiesel could be as broad as those of the “DIY decontaminant” covered last issue, which efficiently converts used cooking oil to biofuel.

Something to consider while walking those boxes to the curb next recycling day.