Microbiologists Richard Sparling and David Levin have received media attention for turning discarded Tim Hortons coffee cups into ethanol.
"We see a lot of cups being thrown away," Sparling says. "Knowing that these are not sent away for any type of recycling at this time, we thought they would make excellent food for the bacteria that we use to make biofuels such as ethanol or even hydrogen."
Since starting the project in 2009, they've had some promising results: they have found they are able to generate about 1.3 litres of ethanol from about 100 Tim Hortons cups.
They're hoping that will eventually lead to more sustainable sources of ethanol, widely used as a gasoline additive and alternative fuel for cars.
Tim Hortons cups, which work better than Starbucks cups, and other paper products have already been pre-treated and processed into a bacteria-ready form and are an abundant waste material.
"We have so much biomass that it would be a shame not to use it," Sparling says.