Move Over Alligator Shoes, It's Time for Alligator Fuel

By Joseph Castro | August 19, 2011 9:06 am

spacing is importantIt’s a handbag. It’s a wallet. No, it’s biofuel.

A genuine alligator-leather purse could put you out hundreds of dollars, but alligator fuel may come fairly cheap. Large fuel plants could produce biofuel from alligator fat for as little as $2.40 a gallon, suggests a recent paper published in the journal Industrial Engineering Chemistry Research. Last we checked, the old-fashioned stuff from long-dead critters was retailing for a buck or so more.

Why use gator fat for fuel? Well, as chemical engineer Rakesh Bajpai and his colleagues at the University of Louisiana pointed out, some 15 million pounds of alligator fat is wasted each year. Alligator farms harvest the animals’ hides and meat to make fashionable accoutrements and deep-fried appetizers, but the ancient creatures’ fat just gets dumped into landfills.

Knowing that alligator fat has a high lipid content, which is useful for biofuel, the researchers decided to test how feasible making alligator juice really is. After treating the fat with chemical solvents and shoving it into a microwave, the team was 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 precent 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 still, the fat would be trashed anyway. What do you think—should we be turning alligator fat into fuel?

[via New York Times]

Image courtesy of Laura Henderson Design

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Alyson

    Sure. If its currently just being wasted, I do approve of using it. Why humans on a planet with dwindling resources would throw anything that can be used away is beyond me. The article doesnt say at all how much of a net gain in energy is created by the process, however. And that is probably the most crucial bit of data in determining if its a good idea. Obviously, if you spend more energy to convert it than it yields, its much less appealing as a course of action.

    However, even if it does yield a net gain of energy, if we think this is some solution to the energy problem, I think we need to think again. The solution to the energy problem is that we need to change the way we live, at a fundamental level. We have been using cheap oil energy (and the resulting increase in food production) like its crack and we need to bring our behaviors and our numbers more into line with the reality of what is sustainable for us here on Earth before it is done for us.

  • Georg

    If its currently just being wasted,

    If… I’d say that fat or any other kind of animal parts (same for plant material)
    is not accepted in landfill. If it is not accepted for animal food, any houshold waste
    incineration facility will welcome that fat (and pay maybe for it), because it will save them some fuel (household waste is regularly low in energy and needs some
    “upgrade” to burn it) . If this economic mechanism works (might be not possible
    due to laws etc) You have the exchange of fat/ “diesel” in the incineration to
    “diesel”/fat in the cars.

  • Baramos

    They probably said this same exact thing about whale fat before driving them to near extinction, you know. After all, currently it’s wasted, but if you think the profitability of fat won’t drive up the hunting of alligators based entirely on the fat to the extent that the skin and meat are entirely forgotten…

  • Cleo

    Cheap fuel is good, doesn’t matter if it’s alligator, corn or what if it’s cheap I like it! When it comes to filling up a limo the cheaper the better!

  • Len Rosen

    You have got to be kidding. It’s bad enough we take edible corn and turn it into biodiesel and ethanol and subsidize the farmers who grow it because we can’t teach them to grow something else.

    But now we’re going to harvest alligators for fuel? We have our priorities “bass ackward” I’m afraid. I understand we turn them into bags and even cutlets but I can just see tank farms filled with alligators being rendered for their fat. Talk about an image that should make us pause.

  • Esther Medina

    Oh no! There go the alligators too. Why can’t we stop using animals for such things?

  • Pippa

    Surely we should avoid wasting anything. Throwing out potentially useful parts of any creature or plant that we kill for our own use should be considered disrespectful, at the least, and not acceptable. If alligators turn out to be useful they will probably be bred and kept like cows, who have been incredibly successful in terms of survival as a species but pay for it with appalling living conditions. A bit like ourselves!

  • Pen

    Alligators live in my backyard about twenty feet from my porch.
    I wouldn’t harvest their fat — even if they would like to harvest mine and that of my pets. Nature rules.

  • Maggie N. SouthCarolina

    Alligators live in my backyard about twenty feet from my porch.
    I wouldn’t harvest their fat — even if they would like to harvest mine and that of my pets. Nature rules.

  • Andrew

    If we started using this fat regularly to power our vehicles, could we change MPG to mean “Miles per Gator”? How much fat is on these alligators? And how much human fat, by comparison, gets buried wastefully in the ground every year — can we starting using that as well?

  • Smidyz

    I can donate personally if they need more. ;o)

  • John M. Tax

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the TOTAL demand for diesel was 1.25 million gallons/year instead of 45 billion? The focus is in the wrong place.
    ps. I wonder how much of the crude came from the alligators’ ancestors….


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