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NEXT BIG THING?
In the future, shredded paper will solve all our problems?
Newspapers are on their way to extinction, and letters are sadly retro, but we still find reasons to go through plenty of paper, sending nearly 16 million tons of it to the landfill each year. Enterprising inventors have come up with ways to give print a new lease on life.
ALL CHARGED UP Sony, the company that brought us the Walkman and PlayStation, is working on a disruptive new technology: a battery that runs on shredded paper. Its "bio battery" relies on cellulase—the enzyme termites use to digest your front porch—to convert paper into sugar. A second set of chemical reactions converts the sugar into electricity. Sony initially plans to use the bio battery to power toys, and later laptops and cellphones. Newspapers, it seems, will still have a future in the digital age, even if it isn't quite the future journalists had hoped for.
FROM DEADLINE TO FINISH LINE Over the years, the New Orleans Times-Picayune has employed William Faulkner and O. Henry, collected a few Pulitzers, and survived the deluge to report on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now it has a new claim to fame: It gives great mileage. Researchers at Tulane University have been feeding back issues of the daily to a new bacterial strain called TU-103. The bacteria convert newsprint into the biofuel butanol, which can be used by cars without any engine modifications.
PAPER HOUSES Filling your attic with bundles of old newspapers is called hoarding. Insulating your attic with old newspapers is called green building. Constructing an attic out of old newspapers mixed with Portland cement is called, er, innovating. The material known as "papercrete" is made by blending wastepaper with water, cement, and clay or other soil to form cinder block-like bricks. Proponents say it could be the low-cost green building material of the future; skeptics note that Portland cement production generates an awful lot of greenhouse gases. Still, papercrete blocks made of old newspapers and phone books are already being produced by Mason Greenstar in Texas, and there are now about 100 papercrete homes in the United States.Â —Dashka Slater
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