Scientists have figured out how to make hand sanitizer from waste

A breakthrough at Tel Aviv University (TAU) enables the local production of ethanol – and hand sanitizers – from plant and paper waste for the first time. Scientists are using a new process to break down lignin, a substance found in plants. This revolutionary process can significantly reduce production costs and lead to a reduction in the use of edible plant sources of ethanol. It will also help protect the environment by reducing the use of various pollutants (such as pest control formulations) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A new study has demonstrated the successful conversion of plant and paper waste into ethanol, the primary raw material for hand sanitizer. Following successful experiments, TAU recently filed a US patent based on a process for producing ethanol from paper and paperboard waste.

The global coronavirus crisis has spurred demand for alcohol (ethanol) -based disinfectants such as alcohol and septol. Ethanol is mainly produced from plants that are used as food sources such as corn, sugarcane, and other carbohydrate-rich crops. Ethanol is also used primarily as a biofuel, which reduces carbon emissions compared to oil. However, ethanol production itself pollutes the environment, as it requires the allocation of large areas for growing corn, as well as the use of pest control and a lot of water.

Israel has no local ethanol production and is completely dependent on tens of thousands of tons of ethanol imports every year. As the COVID-19 crisis progresses and the demand for hand sanitizers increases worldwide, concerns have arisen in Israel about a shortage of hand sanitizers in the country as a result of quarantine conditions in other states and import restrictions. This prompted scientists to look for new methods of ethanol production.

As a result, a method was invented for the production of ethanol from various types of waste: straw, paper waste, etc. Moreover, this is a new, simple and cheap process that hardly damages the environment, does not require the use of any hazardous materials and can be carried out in a decentralized way, on a small scale, scientists conclude. The new ethanol production method will lead to the creation of more inexpensive hand sanitizers from conventional waste, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.