Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rethinking ethanol, and not just because of neutraceutical values

I just ran a local-interest ethanol post in my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog, and to accompany the post I included (via Creative Commons goodness) antaean's picture entitled "Blue Skies Over Corn Fields."

But I just as easily could have used a different picture.

You see, you can make ethanol in other ways:

Experts are looking at the fuel potential of watermelons as millions of tons of the fruit not sold in the market can be converted to clean-burning ethanol to power cars and airplanes.

Researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture in Lane, Oklahoma made the finding in a study published in the journal “Biotechnology for Biofuels”....

The original paper itself can be found at the Biotechnology for Biofuels website. The title of the paper is Watermelon juice: a promising feedstock supplement, diluent, and nitrogen supplement for ethanol biofuel production. Here's part of what Fish, Bruton, and Russo state:

Two economic factors make watermelon worthy of consideration as a feedstock for ethanol biofuel production. First, about 20% of each annual watermelon crop is left in the field because of surface blemishes or because they are misshapen; currently these are lost to growers as a source of revenue. Second, the neutraceutical value of lycopene and L-citrulline obtained from watermelon is at a threshold whereby watermelon could serve as starting material to extract and manufacture these products.

OK, I know nothing about neutraceutical values, but the targeting of only the bad 20% of the crop addresses one of my concerns - namely, that if farmers are persuaded to divert crops to ethanol production, food prices will rise, resulting in more poverty. If this 20% of the crop can't be sold anyway because of our love for beauty, then using it for ethanol is a win-win situation.
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