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New Meaning of "MPG"

by Guy McCardle

September 9, 2011

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Donate Move over “miles per gallon”, make room for “miles per gator”. As we are all too painfully aware, fossil fuels (gas, oil, natural gas, coal) are in short supply and are getting increasing more expensive each pay period. Not only are they non-sustainable, depending who you talk to they result in health compromising pollution and greenhouse gas-induced climate change. Don’t even get me started on the whole “blood for oil” thing. It’s no surprise that the search for alternative energy sources is on. Scientists are leaving no reptile unturned. Click here if you care to read more of my thoughts on renewable energy.

Back to the venerable alligator. Believe it or not, every year about 15 million pounds of fat is produced by the alligator meat-processing industry. The vast majority of this is dumped into landfills. The alligators are harvested from the wild and from gator farms for their skin and meat. At this point you might be thinking, “gator stuff doesn’t come cheap. Alligator shoes, wallets and belts can cost hundreds of dollars and up. Only Bill Gates can afford to fill his gas tank with fuel made from gator fat”. Not so fast, large fuel plants could produce biofuel from alligator fat for as low as $2.40 per gallon. That beats the old fashioned dinosaur based stuff by about a buck a gallon last time I checked.

What exactly are biofuels? Basically, they are fuels created from living things. They can be more sustainable and renewable than fossil fuels. Corn based fuels like ethanol are already widely in use. Biodiesel is being created from soy bean oil as well as used fryer oil. And even lowly old algae is being converted to a biofuel. It is called “oilgae”. Click here if you want to read my article about that.

Alligator fat has long been known to have a high lipid content. The waste items, such as fryer oil and animal fats, used to make biofuel are known as “golden garbage”. Research on the topic has been published in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. Scientists have been able to convert about 61 percent of the fat into lipids for biofuel. They then refined some fuel from the lipids and found that it has about 91 percent of the energy content of petroleum diesel.

All that wasted alligator fat could be transformed into 1.25 million gallons of fuel, the researchers say. Sounds like a lot, but that’s just a tiny fraction of the over 300 million gallons of biodiesel the U.S. produced last year (most of which came from soybean oil), and an even smaller fraction of the 45 billion gallons of diesel the country consumed in 2008. But hey, it’s a start.

Maybe one day we’ll be putting a gator in our tanks instead of a tiger.

by Guy McCardle

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