Scientists have made a breakthrough in turning discarded fruit rinds and other throwaways into cheap clean fuel to power the world’s vehicles.
University of Central Florida professor Henry Daniell has developed a less expensive way to produce ethanol from waste products such as orange peels and newspapers. According to the developers, his approach is greener and less expensive than the current methods used to run vehicles on clean fuel. It was developed with the goal to relegate gasoline to a secondary fuel.
Daniell’s method also can be applied to several non-food products throughout the United States, including sugarcane, switchgrass and straw.
“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 says.
His technique uses plant-derived enzyme cocktails to break down orange peels and other waste materials into sugar, which then is fermented into ethanol. Currently, the most popular source is corn starch that is fermented and converted into ethanol. But ethanol derived from corn produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline does. Ethanol made through Daniell’s approach produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or electricity, according to the Orlando university.
Also, there is an abundance of waste products that could be used without reducing the world’s food supply or driving up food prices, says the process developer. In Florida alone, discarded orange peels could create about 200 million gallons of ethanol each year, Daniell says.
More research is needed before Daniell’s findings, just published in “Plant Biotechnology Journal,” can move from his laboratory to the market. But other scientists conducting research in biofuels describe the early results as promising.
For instance, Daniell’s team cloned genes from wood-rotting fungi or bacteria and produced enzymes in tobacco plants. Producing these enzymes in tobacco instead of manufacturing synthetic versions could reduce the cost of production by a thousand times, which means the cost of making ethanol should be significantly reduced, Daniell says.
Tobacco was chosen as an ideal system for enzyme production for several reasons. First, it is not a food crop, and second, an estimated 40 metric tons of biomass -- or bioenergy -- are produced annually in each acre of tobacco plants. Finally, enzyme production also would provide an alternate use for this crop.
Daniell’s team includes Dheeraj Verma, Anderson Kanagaraj, Shuangxia Jin, Nameirakpam Singh and Pappachan E. Kolattukudy in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at UCF’s College of Medicine. Genes for pectinase enzyme were cloned in Kolattukudy’s laboratory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the research.