Orange peels and newspapers may be the source of a clean, cheap fuel according to scientists from the University of Central Florida who have developed a groundbreaking technique to turn rubbish into ethanol.
Could orange peel be used for fuel
Professor Henry Daniell’s technique uses plant-derived enzyme cocktails to breakdown waste materials into sugars which can then be fermented into ethanol.
“This could be a turning point where vehicles could use this fuel as the norm for protecting our air and environment for future generations,” Daniell said. He believes 200 million gallons of ethanol could be made from the discarded orange peels in Florida alone. The process can be applied to several non-food products such as sugarcane, switchgrass and straw.
Depending on the waste product, a specific combination of more than 10 enzymes is needed to change to biomass into sugars. All the enzymes Daniell’s team used are naturally occurring, created by a range of microbial species including bacteria and fungi.
The team cloned genes from wood-rotting fungi or bacteria and produced enzymes in tobacco plants, which – when compared to synthetic manufacture – reduces the cost by a thousand times, thus reducing the cost of producing ethanol, Daniell said.
More work is needed before the findings can move from the laboratory to the market, but Daniell hopes gasoline will be relegated to a secondary fuel.
Food scraps and other waste could also be used to fuel aircraft in the future. British Airways is planning a specialist plant in London to produce biojet fuel, which has not yet been certified by the UK authorities.
Officials want to further test the fuel to make sure aircraft safety and performance is not compromised by engines running on biojet fuels, which has a lower energy content than conventional fossil fuels. However, US safety authorities have approved its use: they allow planes to run on a maximum 50% blend of biojet fuel mixed with kerosene.
The BA plant – which should be open by 2014 – will create 1,200 jobs and be able to convert 500,000 tonnes of waste a year into 16 million gallons of jet fuel.