It’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.
Butter Franklin was one of several fat sculptures, an annual presence at the fair. After the 2007 farm show, USDA biochemist Michael J. Haas suggested that fair organizers should convert the rancid sculpture into biofuel, The New York Times reports.
BlackGold Biofuels took on the task, which involved replacing glycerin in the butter with a methanol molecule to form biodiesel. Franklin proved that 800 pounds of butter saved is 75 gallons of biodiesel fuel and lower-grade bunker fuel earned.
The company’s real mission is to convert agricultural waste, not edible butter, into fuel, since butter is fairly costly to produce. As BlackGold executive Emily Landsburg told the The New York Times, dismantling the founding father was “not a typical day at the office.” The butter-to-biofuel pathway probably won’t catch on, Landsburg said, because “the number of rancid butter sculptures in the U.S. is probably not significant.”
Discoblog: All Aboard the Beef Train–Amtrak Debuts a Train Running on Beef Biofuel
Discoblog: Dr. 90210 Powers SUV with Liposuctioned Fat
Discoblog: Finally! A Self-Sustaining, Sewage-Processing, Poop-Powered Rocket
Discoblog: This Poop Mobile Could Get All Its Energy From 70 Homes’ Worth of Methane
Image: flickr / pwbaker
Ever since Henry Ford’s “sky flivver” killed a pilot in 1928, engineers have devoted time and money to building the ultimate flying car. On Wednesday, British adventurer Neil Laughton was hoping to fly the “world’s first bio-fuelled flying car” over the English Channel, and embark on a 42-day trip to from London to Timbuktu in Mali. The flying car is powered by a snowmobile engine, and fueled with a mix of petrol and bioethanol.
Unfortunately for Laughton, he failed to submit the proper paperwork to fly across the English Channel, so his trip began a bit less dramatically: He took the ferry from the U.K. on Wednesday morning, and is now preparing to take off in France.
DISCOVER caught up with Laughton, who says he will take flight on Saturday. He would not tell us the location of his runway, however, because he doesn’t want the French authorities to stop the voyage.
So why use biofuel? “We wanted to make a statement to the world that even a James Bond flying car can save the environment,” says Laughton.
If/when he does start his journey, he’ll need good weather to complete the 3,600 mile trip through the Pyrenees, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Sahara Desert. The Parajet SkyCar will travel by both land and air, at speeds of up to 110 mph on the ground and up to 70 mph in flight. It takes just three minutes for the car to take off from a field or airstrip that is at least 700 feet long. While in the air, the car is controlled by cables and pedals, and can fly as high as 15,000 feet.
Curious about what it looks like? Then click here to see for yourself.
Image: flickr/ bossmustanguk
A Beverly Hills liposurgeon has been accused of using his patients’ liposuctioned fat to fuel his and his girlfriend’s SUVs. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this story is that no one came up with the lipo-fat-as-fuel idea before.
Give Dr. Alan Bittner this: He was never secretive about what happened to the leftover liposuction fat from his practice, Beverly Hills Liposculpture. According to Forbes.com, he even ran a Web site dedicated to human fat fuel. On the now defunct lipodiesel.com, Bittner wrote, “The vast majority of my patients request that I use their fat for fuel—and I have more fat than I can use… Not only do they get to lose their love handles or chubby belly but they get to take part in saving the Earth.”
Experts say animal fat is just as good as vegetable fat and a gallon of either will get you about the same mileage as a gallon of regular diesel. The only caveat is that animal fat requires an additional processing step to remove free fatty acids. Due to a recent surge in soybean oil prices, biodiesel manufacturers say that over half of this year’s biodiesel came from animal sources, such as pig lard. Other new sources of biofuel include turkey feathers (see the DISCOVER story Anything Into Oil), coffee grounds, pond scum, and rainforest fungus.
As John McCain and Barack Obama aim for the White House, the fights over experience and age, the war in Iraq and terrorism, and the economy and budget-balancing drag on. But whenever a serious science and technology debate comes up —including education, medicine, and energy—we here at DISCOVER perk up. Even if that debate is being furthered by Paris Hilton.
Granted, the point of Paris’ most recent (and perhaps only) talk about energy policy on funnyordie.com is not to start an energy debate that has teeth, but to make a humorous entry into presidential politics with faux-serious solutions. If this is an effective way to get people to discuss energy policy—an admittedly wonkish and often boring topic—so be it.
And now, let’s discuss Paris Hilton’s “energy plan.”
First of all, Hilton is taking on oil, not energy. She is not discussing nuclear, coal, wind, or solar—just the stuff that is turned into plastic water bottles, heats our homes, and makes cars go “vroom”. So this is not a comprehensive energy plan, but a look at lowering gas prices and shedding dependence on foreign oil.
Skyrocketing oil prices are driving the world crazy. States like Utah are cutting the workweek back to four days to save on gas. Even bigger news: President Bush actually agreed to join other G-8 leaders in reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Biofuels seem like a solution, but demand for them has cut into our food supply. Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens is now chasing the wind turbine. But some scientists are going to the extreme—using extremophiles, a type of microbe found in some of the most inhospitable places on earth, to solve the energy crisis.
For years, extremophiles were the stuff of science fiction, but now scientists are traveling to places like China’s western deserts to collect the microbes for scientific research. The bugs don’t need sunlight, don’t need to breathe, can bathe in acid, and can withstand radiation that would easily kill humans. Forbes reports that a microscopic bug discovered two miles underneath a South African gold mine in 2006 survives “exclusively on a diet of sulfur and hydrogen,” while other bugs flourish in boiling heat and spend their lives buried in glaciers and volcanoes.
When life gives you 20 million pigs’ worth of urine, make pig-piss-flavored cigarettes. Or, if you’re not a smoker, use the pig pee to make plastic dinnerware and fuel your car, or smooth it over your body for soft, supple hair and skin. Agroplast, a Denmark-based company, hopes to use its country’s surfeit of pig waste—the cause of contaminated ground water, dying plants, noxious air, and pissed-off neighbors—to make useful household products, from plastics to hair conditioner.