watermelon, watermelon biodiesel

Discarded Watermelons Could Be New Source of Biofuel

September 03, 2009 07:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Imperfect watermelons could be turned into ethanol and used to fuel farm equipment, adding one more fuel source to the do-it-yourself and green fuel movements.

Traveling Brewery Could Turn Watermelons to Ethanol

More than 350,000 tons of watermelons went to waste in 2007, according to Katie Howell of Greenwire, mostly because the melons didn’t live up to consumers’ standards of appearance. Those with discolored or scarred rinds are left on the vine to rot, and account for about one-fifth of the watermelon crop each year.

But a new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may mean that farmers no longer have to absorb the loss of those unsightly melons. Instead, they could be turned into fuel for farm equipment.

Wayne Fish and other scientists had been studying antioxidants found in the melons when they realized the possibility of making ethanol biofuel from melon juice, John Roach of National Geographic reports. Fish and others were able to make 23 gallons of ethanol from one acre of fruit, meaning that small or medium-sized farms would be able to use the fuel on their own farms.

But transporting the watermelons to a processing plant would be a waste of energy, so one biofuel company has plans to create a mobile processing plant that would move from one farm to another making fuel from the watermelons.

Microbreweries for ethanol biofuel are nothing new. In 2008, E-Fuel Corporation unveiled the MicroFueler, a device that allows consumers to make ethanol at home out of sugar or leftover alcohol.

Biofuels: Ethanol and biodiesel

Biofuels are fuels made from organic matter, which includes plants and animals. When talking about biofuels for engines, the discussion usually surrounds either ethanol or biodiesel. According to Jeff McIntire-Strasburg of TreeHugger, ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from corn, potatoes or other starchy plants that is mixed with gasoline and can decrease the amount of pollution given off by a car. Biodiesel is derived from oils (for example, peanut or soybean) and can be used to run a diesel engine on its own.

The BBC points out that cars were originally manufactured to run on biofuels, but the cheap availability of crude oil during the middle of the 20th century led to widespread use of gasoline. Technically, National Geographic points out, petroleum is also a biofuel because it is made from ancient plants and animals, but it is not a renewable source of energy like ethanol or biodiesel.

Related Topic: Potential sources of biofuel

In 2008, scientists discovered a fungus in the Patagonian rainforest that produced many of the necessary components of biodiesel fuel. Although the fungus only produced small amounts of the necessary ingredients, scientists hope to use what they’ve learned to one day engineer a microbe that could be used to mass-produce biodiesel.

Last year, scientists at the University of Kentucky discovered that algae could be used to absorb some of the harmful CO2 emissions from coal-burning power plants, and that same algae could later be used to create biodiesel. The drawback of the algae is that it is quite expensive to turn into oil, which may make it unrealistic to use on a large scale.

J. Craig Venter, one of the scientists to help decode the human genome, has suggested that it will one day be possible to create biofuel out of synthetic DNA. Although the ability to make biofuel from scratch could replace the dwindling supply of petroleum, there is concern in the field of synthetic biology that the same technology could be used for dangerous purposes, such as creating deadly diseases.

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