There's no single answer to the fuel of the future, at least certainly not at this time. Part of the solution lies in reclaiming waste streams that now mostly end up in landfills. Some of these -- like poop -- we don't even want to think about, but it's about time we did. And scientists are on the case, given the strange-but-true examples cited here.
Cellulosic ethanol (made from sugar cane, wood waste or sweet sorghum) is probably the wave of the future, but here are some other ways we can -- and probably will -- make fuel from bio-materials.
Is it possible to run a car on chocolate? Well, maybe not wholly on chocolate. Your Hershey bar won't get you home in an emergency, but a team from the University of Warwick in Britain has built and is track-testing a Formula 3 race car, running on 30% biodiesel derived from chocolate waste. That's not all; the steering wheel is partly made of carrots, and the mirrors and aerodynamic front wing are formed with potato starch and flax fiber.
According to James Meredith, who heads the project at Warwick, "Anything with a fat in it can be turned into diesel, and that's what we've managed to do." The chocolate is waste from bad batches at Cadbury's in nearby Birmingham. The researchers have managed to keep their fingers out of the chocolate vats. "It's waste, so I assume it's no good to eat," Meredith said.
Photo: University of Warwick
Dr. Craig Alan Bittner, a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon who reportedly conducted more than 7,000 liposuctions -- and believed in waste not, want not -- saved the leftover fat and turned it into perfectly good biofuel for his Ford SUV and his girlfriend's Lincoln Navigator. "The vast majority of my patients request that I use their fat for fuel," he said on his website, "and I have more fat than I can use." They lose their love handles and help the Earth at the same time, he said.
A gallon of fat can be turned into a gallon of biofuel, but the fact that it's illegal is a minor deterrent, though not apparently to Dr. Bittner. He had other problems, too, including reportedly getting his unlicensed assistant and girlfriend to perform his operations.
Photo: Image99 / Jupiterimages
Wow, according to the United Nations, the livestock industry (including the growing of all the cattle feed, the transportation to market and energy for factory-farm operations) is responsible for 18% of global warming emissions -- more than transportation worldwide. And it will get worse: Current projections show meat production more than doubling to 469 million tons in 2050. One of the main culprits is methane, a global warming gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The world has 1.5 billion cows, and they produce methane out of both ends (belching more than flatulence). An estimated two thirds of the planet's ammonia comes from cows, too. In New Zealand, livestock accounts for 34% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Partly because they're eating grain instead of the grass nature intended, cows can produce 50 to 130 gallons of methane every day. Suppose we could use that as a fuel, since methane burns very well. Eureka! Dairy farms such as Blue Spruce Farm in Vermont are putting their cow waste in anaerobic (no oxygen) digesters for three weeks, producing methane, and then burning it in generators to produce electricity. This "cow power" is being sold to a nearby college, and it can also be fed back into the grid. The process also generates useful fertilizer.
Photo: Gloria Dawson / The Daily Green
According to Robert Malloy of the University of Massachusetts, used polystyrene coffee cups will make a great fuel component. Polystyrene (used to make disposable foam plates and cups) is very lightweight but also bulky, so it's difficult and expensive to send out for recycling. But it could make a very effective fuel additive, says an Iowa State study last April. "This study demonstrated that polystyrene-biodiesel blends could be successfully used in diesel engines with minor modifications to the fuel system and appropriate adjustments to engine operating conditions."
According to Song-Charng Kong, a co-author of the Iowa study, polystyrene melts quickly in biodiesel, and fuel that is as much as five percent coffee cups does quite well. At higher concentrations (they tried up to 20%) it gets too thick. Right now emissions are a problem, but they're working on it.
And that's not all! Learn more about alternative fuels made from diapers, sawdust, turkeys, coffee grinds and more.
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