Orange peels, newspapers may lead to cheaper, cleaner ethanol fuel

Feb 18, 2010
This is Dr. Henry Daniell in his lab at the University of Central Florida. Credit: Jacque Brund

Scientists may have just made the breakthrough of a lifetime, turning discarded fruit peels and other throwaways into cheap, clean fuel to power the world's vehicles.

University of Central Florida professor Henry Daniell has developed a groundbreaking way to produce ethanol from waste products such as orange peels and newspapers. His approach is greener and less expensive than the current methods available to run vehicles on cleaner fuel - and his goal is to relegate gasoline to a secondary fuel.

Daniell's breakthrough can be applied to several non-food products throughout the United States, including sugarcane, 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," he said.

Daniell's technique - developed with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding -- uses plant-derived enzyme cocktails to break down orange peels and other waste materials into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol.

Corn starch now is fermented and converted into ethanol. But ethanol derived from corn produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline does. Ethanol created using Daniell's approach produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or electricity.

There's also an abundance of waste products that could be used without reducing the world's or driving up food prices. In Florida alone, discarded orange peels could create about 200 million gallons of ethanol each year, Daniell said.

More research is needed before Daniell's findings, published this month in the highly regarded Plant Journal, can move from his laboratory to the market. But other scientists conducting research in biofuels describe the early results as promising.

"Dr. Henry Daniell's team's success in producing a combination of several cell wall degrading enzymes in plants using chloroplast transgenesis is a great achievement," said Mariam Sticklen, a professor of crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University. In 2008, she received international media attention for her research looking at an enzyme in a cow's stomach that could help turn corn plants into fuel.

Daniell said no company in the world can produce cellulosic ethanol - ethanol that comes from wood or the non-edible parts of plants.

Depending on the waste product used, a specific combination or "cocktail" of more than 10 enzymes is needed to change the biomass into sugar and eventually ethanol. Orange peels need more of the pectinase enzyme, while wood waste requires more of the xylanase enzyme. All of the enzymes Daniell's team uses are found in nature, created by a range of microbial species, including bacteria and fungi.

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 should significantly reduce the cost of making , Daniell said.

Tobacco was chosen as an ideal system for enzyme production for several reasons. It is not a food crop, it produces large amounts of energy per acre and an alternate use could potentially decrease its use for smoking.

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rgw
3.4 / 5 (8) Feb 18, 2010
Every new story about energy from organic waste products makes me cringe. How much ethanol/energy per pound of vegetation? How is the heavy, bulky, widely dispersed organic waste transported to the processing plant? Teleportation? Propellentless, anti-gravitic lift? Fairies?
Rick69
3 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
"Daniell said no company in the world can produce cellulosic ethanol - ethanol that comes from wood or the non-edible parts of plants." What am I missing here? I thought this was being done by a number of companies.
jscroft
1 / 5 (6) Feb 18, 2010
And all this effort in the name of producing less "greenhouse gas" emissions... despite the facts that (a) the greenhouse EFFECT was debunked last year at the level of basic physics for both the Earth's atmosphere AND greenhouses, and (b) the "research" that generated the impetus to reduce these emissions has been conclusively demonstrated to have been made up out of whole cloth.

It isn't that a new method of creating ethanol from waste doesn't merit publication. But why in G-d's name must we continue to report such stories within the CONTEXT of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) when anybody who hasn't been living on the far side of the Moon for the past year knows by now that ACC is complete BS?
robz
5 / 5 (3) Feb 18, 2010
@ rqw
I'd imagine these methods to be used for ex by the agricultural industry, who have these leftovers.
meisdug
4 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
"ethanol derived from corn produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline does. Ethanol created using Daniell's approach produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions"

I find this hard to believe. Ethanol is ethanol, regardless of the source. But, I'll take it's CO2 and H2O exhaust any day over the crap spewing out of gasoline combustion.
winthrom
4 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
Let me see. We make ethanol because .... (fill in the blamk). Wood alcohol is methanol and has been made by well known methods from wood for a very long time. Processes exist to convert Methanol into gasoline, economically. So what makes Booze a panecea? All that "woody" material that we cannot easily convert to ethanol would make nice methanol and that converts to gasoline. Ethanol ia just a gimmick from the last administration that makes money for agrabusiness.
Caliban
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2010
I would like to see some cost-per-unit figures for the production, refining, and distribution of petro versus a similar-scale eth/meth operation. I expect that, given the abundance of appropriate biomass, ethanol would compare very favorably. Methanol, since it can be made from an even broader range of feedstocks(notably Plastics) would probably compare more favorably still, especially after engines were modified for eth/meth operation. Don't forget that this would also enable probably 95% reduction in landfill. Garbage is fuel!
Any one got those numbers?
NeilFarbstein
Feb 18, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PinkElephant
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2010
Wood alcohol is methanol and has been made by well known methods from wood for a very long time.

Does such methanol contain more usable energy than was spent making it from wood? In what volumes can it be produced (i.e. how rapidly), and at what cost?
So what makes Booze a panecea?

Well for one, it's not toxic (at least not nearly as toxic as methanol.) It also has higher energy density than methanol.
...nice methanol and that converts to gasoline.

Gasoline, which burns dirty and requires expensive catalytic converters, and even despite them causes smog in high-density urban centers.
mosahlah
2 / 5 (1) Feb 21, 2010
Finally, I can drive my car guilt-free. Whew. I going cruising right now. Thanks Physorg.