Soap and water are best to eliminate COVID-19 from the hands, but when no sink is available, alcogel is the next best thing. The current pandemic has led to a huge increase in global demand for hand sanitizers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is mostly produced from
corn and sugar cane through an expensive – and polluting – process.
Thousands of tons of ethanol are imported as raw material required for hand sanitizer production to Israel every year, as it is not produced locally, making the country completely dependent on the annual import of tens of thousands of tons of ethanol. The increasing global demand raises concerns regarding the transparent disinfectant’s availability.
For the first time in the world, a groundbreaking development enables a local Israeli, low-cost, decentralized, non-polluting production of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer from waste such as municipal and agricultural trim, straw and residual paper fibers.
This novel method was developed as part of a joint research of Prof. Hadas Mamane from the Tel Aviv University (TAU) School of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. Yoram Gerchman from the Oranim Academic College-the University of Haifa and TAU doctoral students Roi Perez, Yan Rosen and Barak Halpern. Following the successful research, a patent for the process was registered by TAU in the US.
Ethanol is produced mostly from plants that are used as food sources, such as corn, sugar cane and other carbohydrate-rich crops and is used mainly as a biological fuel, which has reduced carbon emissions, unlike petroleum. But ethanol production still pollutes the environment since it requires the allocation of large areas for corn cultivation, as well as the use of pest control agents and large amounts of water
As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, concerns emerged of shortages of hand sanitizer in Israel as a result of quarantine conditions in other states, global demand and import limitations.
The novel degradation process – which involves lignin, a substance found in plants – could significantly cut back on production costs and lead to a decrease in the use of edible plant sources, help protect the environment, reduce the use of various pollutants (such as pest control agents) and greenhouse gases emissions.
The research was successful in converting plant and paper waste into ethanol. Mamane, head of the environmental engineering program for postgraduate studies in TAU’s Faculty of Engineering, explained that “our successful ethanol production from various waste types, including municipal and agricultural trim, straw, paper waste, paper sludge and the like using 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. It’s a genuine breakthrough.”
She added that the university recently started a pilot program of ethanol production for use in disinfectants in an attempt to take on the challenge of increasing the efficacy of alcohol production from various types of waste.
Mamane believes that “this research has so much potential because about 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 reduce fuel usage and air pollution caused by burning of agricultural production that is common around the globe, she concluded.