If your home looks anything like mine, Jeff Bezos should be paying rent. Cardboard Amazon boxes have taken over. Tiny boxes. Unusable boxes. Boxes that are painstakingly designed to be efficient and recyclable, sure, but boxes that end up in the trash anyway. The problem isn’t that you or I don’t recycle them. The problem is that recycling centers, with so much excess cardboard, just toss the material into a dump.
But what if we could do something else—anything else—with all these boxes? Like fuel a car? Thanks to Sun-Mi Lee, a research scientist at the Clean Energy Research Center of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, maybe we can. Her team has cultivated its own microorganism to transform used cardboard boxes into a substance that can be easily refined into biofuel.
As of today, the U.S. makes most of its biofuel from fermenting corn into ethanol. Ethanol is often cut into more typical gasolines, and it represents about 10% of all gas sold in the U.S. But creating ethanol is not the most efficient of processes, and it taps a food source for energy with real consequence. Ethanol production has actually driven up food prices, which is problematic in a world where food production will increasingly be a concern.