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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Oranges rejuiced

As fuel costs soar and manufacturers eagerly seek out ever more exotic sources of alternative fuel now and then they stmble on familiar, oranges for instance.

Long the mainstay of Florida growers and road side fruit stands, orange groves abound in the sunshine state and as such contribute mightily to the econonomy of that states agricultural sector.

Now, a researcher believes he has found a use for the mountains of orange peel that plague the grower each season

Karel Grohmann, an agricultural researcher at the USDA Citrus and subtropical Product Lab in Florida envisioned using the waste orange peel to manufacture ethanol. Ethanol is a natural biofuel, which can be extracted from plant materials with a high sugar level, the higher the sugar or energy content, the higher the percent of ethanol that can be produced. Ethanol is made by fermenting the sugars in a process identical to distilling liquor. Yeast first break down the complex sugars to produce simple enzymes which are then comsumed by bacteria, producing ethanol.

The process allows the extraction of by-products other than ethanol such as citrus oils used a a base in a variety of natural cleaning products and as a degreaser for machinery.

The majority of oranges harvested in Florida each year are used to make orange juice, 95%. the USDA estimates that using the waste peels from Florida’s orange crop, refiners could produce up to 55-million gallons of ethanol annually, which is still a small percentage of the nearly 3.5-billion gallons produced in the United States today. Researchers say however that the ethanol would be but a single benefit to the Florida citrus industry. Income from ethanol would improve orange grove farmer’s bottom line, they could get more for their oranges. Juice processors would earn three times the 2-4 cents per pound they now receive from selling the waste peel as cattle feed and landfills would be free of the accumulated peel from excess processing.

Earlier this year the USDA built a pilot processing plant and was able to produce four gallons of ethanol for every 100 gallons of liquid orange pulp. At that level they conclude that the process is profitable based on current gas prices.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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