Researchers pitch gatordiesel as truck fuel

Engineers at the University of Louisiana (UL) have discovered a novel source for making biodiesel: alligator fat

Engineers at the University of Louisiana (UL) have discovered a novel source for making biodiesel: alligator fat.

Data shows that oil extracted from alligator fat is easily converted into biodiesel, and that the oil is actually better for biodiesel production than other animal fats, as the gatordiesel is similar to biodiesel from soybeans, researchers said. The end product also meets most of the standards for high-quality biodiesel.

Researchers Srividya Ayalasomayajula, Ramalingam Subramaniam, August Gallo, Stephen Dufreche, Mark Zappi, and Rakesh Bajpai published their findings in the Journal of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, published by American Chemical Society.

Louisiana and Florida lead the U.S. in the size of their alligator populations. Every year, the alligator meat processing industry disposes of about 15 million lbs. of alligator fat, generally into landfills. The alligators are harvested from the wild and domestic alligator populations for their skin and meat, the study said.

“This is a really cool idea,” Mark Zappi said to Nola.com. “Our big thing is let’s put a gator in your car instead of a tiger.”

Zappi, dean of the chemical engineering department at UL, said besides just being a cool idea, using animal fat is one of the better ways to reduce harmful emissions and produce more environmentally sensitive fuel.

Production of just 1 billion gallons of biodiesel from soybean oil would consume about 690 million bushels of soybeans or approximately 21% of total soybean production in the U.S. in 2010. Only 700 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in 2008 (compared to 20 million gallons in 2003), and soybean prices have already risen from $7.34 per bushel in 2003–04 to $10.10 in 2009, the study pointed out.

“Alligators don’t make enough fat to make a big dent in things,” Zappi said. “Yes, there is some potential. But if we’re really going to be looking at replacing the tons of diesel the country, we're looking at more than gator and soybean.”

A co-author of the study, Rakesh Bajpai, told Nola.com that 15 million pounds of gator fat could produce about 1.3 million gallons of biodiesel — less than three-hundredths of 1% of the country’s annual needs.

Zappi said the country will benefit from “a mixed portfolio of biodiesel feedstock,” raw material that can be used in the production of biodiesel fuel including animal fat wastes, sewage sludge, Chinese tallow, used vegetable oil, yeast, algae, and in another concurrent UL study, sweet potato fat.

“Usually when you work with animals, it’s not the kind of quality fat that is as good as soybean, but alligator fat seems to be the best animal fat. The chemical composition of alligator fat looks really good for making biofuel,” Zappi told Nola.com.

Bajpai added that the quality of the fuel produced from gator fat meets the standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

“Really, when it comes down to us, it’s about what can we make good with what we're throwing away,” Zappi said. “It shows that there are other avenues we can be exploring; and that we really ought to think outside the box because we are only scratching the service of what biofuel can do for us.”

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