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In first, Israeli researchers produce low-cost, environmentally safe sanitizer using plant and paper waste

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This breakthrough is especially important as the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and demands for hand sanitizing products continues to increase


In a world first, Israeli scientists have produced a low-cost alcohol-based hand sanitizer using waste.

The hand sanitizer, which is produced from plant and paper waste, is environmentally friendly and safe.

This breakthrough is especially important as the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and demands for hand sanitizing products continues to increase. 

The discovery was made by a joint research team from Tel Aviv University and Haifa University, which was led by Prof. Hadas Mamane from the TAU School of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. Yoram Gerchman from the Oranim Academic College at Haifa University and several PhD students.

The team explained that most alcohol sanitizers and disinfectants are produced using a type of alcohol called ethanol. However, ethanol “is mostly produced from plants that are used as food sources, such as corn, sugarcane and other carbohydrate-rich crops, and is used mainly as a biological fuel, which has reduced carbon emissions, as compared to oil.” 

They pointed out that ethanol production harms the environment because it needs “the allocation of large areas for corn cultivation, as well as the use of pest control agents and large amounts of water.”

Israel, the researchers said, has no local ethanol production, “and is completely dependent on the annual import of tens of thousands tons of ethanol,” until now.

The team’s breakthrough development has enabled ethanol to be produced locally and not only that, their method to do so is environmentally safe because it is based on plant and paper waste and uses lignin, which is a substance found in plants, to break down the waste and produce ethanol. 

According to Mamane, their successful ethanol production was done using “various waste types, including municipal and agricultural trim, straw, paper waste, and paper sludge, among other waste products.

Prof. Hadas Mamane from the Tel Aviv University School of Mechanical Engineering.
(Credit: Tel Aviv University)

“This revolutionary process could significantly cut back on production costs and lead to a decrease in the use of edible plant sources,” she said, adding that it will also “help protect the environment, reduce the use of various pollutants like pest control agents and greenhouse gases emissions, due to environmental-friendly waste processing”

Through the team’s research, they were able to convert plant and paper waste into ethanol successfully and thus producing the main raw material used in hand sanitizer. 

Following the successful experiments, a USA patent, based on the process of ethanol production from paper and cardboard recycling waste, was recently registered by Tel Aviv University.

“[We] used a novel, simple and cheap process, that hardly causes any environmental damage, does not require the use of any hazardous materials, and can be implemented in a decentralized manner, on a small scale, as well as part of large-scale fermentation and distillation processes,” she emphasized, adding that this “is a genuine breakthrough,”

Mamane said that TAU “has recently started an applicative pilot of ethanol production for use in disinfectants, using Israel’s waste,” while also aiming to increase the efficacy of alcohol production from various types of waste. 

For Mamane this research has so much potential “because approximately 620,000 tons of plant and similar waste, and 35,000 tons of paper waste, that have no use and whose management requires resources, are produced annually in Israel alone.

“Salvaging this waste by using it to produce ethanol will cut waste management expenses, increase the efficiency and decentralize ethanol production, reduce resource exploitation of edible plants, and could reduce fuel usage and air pollution, caused by burning of agricultural production that is frequent around the globe,” Mamane concluded.

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