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Power Earth Science Technology

Watermelon Juice Makes Great Biofuel 160

Mike writes "Watermelons are more than just a tasty summer snack — researchers at the USDA have determined that the fruit constitutes a promising and economically viable source of biofuel. It turns out that the relatively high concentration of directly fermentable sugars in watermelon juice can be easily converted into ethanol. Rather than grow fields of the fruit for the purpose, the report suggests that farmers capitalize on the 20% of each annual watermelon crop that is left in the field because of surface blemishes or because they are misshapen."
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Watermelon Juice Makes Great Biofuel

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  • by Misanthrope ( 49269 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:32PM (#29222451)

    As a homebrewer, does this actually taste decent?

  • Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EkriirkE ( 1075937 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:35PM (#29222509) Homepage
    Any glucose/sugar product can be distilled this way.
    Next up: Candy Canes make Great Biofuel
  • by gapagos ( 1264716 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:36PM (#29222525)

    As long as we don't claim Watermelon Fuel to be the solution, then I'm happy.

    Corn-based "Ethanol" actually produces more pollution through corn crops than conventional oil.
    Yet we were stuck with mellon heads (pun intended) claiming because it was from plants, it was "green" fuel.

    I see FTA that they only wish to use the 20% watermellon leftovers for fuel, which is good if the conversion to oil doesn't pollute more than a conventional oil refinery, but it should end it there.

    No watermellon-to-oil crop fields please.

  • Wasted fruit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Odo ( 109839 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:39PM (#29222585)

    The real news is that 20% of the watermelon crop is currently thrown out due to cosmetic issues. I don't understand why shape and surface issues would disqualify the fruit from use in processed foods. Such as watermelon juice, fruit salads, sweeteners, etc. If true (and the article did not provide citations, this represents a stunning waste.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:42PM (#29222641) Journal
    Near as I could tell, the only people who claimed that corn ethanol was actually a good idea were corn growers and any politicians who needed votes out in corn country.(and anybody involved with whiskey, of course; but they aren't wrong)
  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:45PM (#29222685)
    TFA sticks with the "economically viable" phrase and doesn't offer any numbers or details.

    Plenty of things, including oil sands, arctic natural gas, and burning baby seal blubber can be "economically viable" in certain situations, but only when more traditional sources of crude oil reach a certain market price. This article doesn't even conjecture about when and where watermelon fuel could be "economically viable" compared to crude oil, and comparison with crude oil marks the only concrete method of making the comparison.

    Naturally, using watermelons you've already grown for fuel might be viable at a pretty low return, compared with letting them rot, but the article doesn't prove that, either.
  • by Mr.Fork ( 633378 ) <edward...j...reddy@@@gmail...com> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:45PM (#29222689) Journal
    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, ANY food source used as a bio-fuel is a terrible idea. Using food sources for bio-fuels has resulted in people STARVING to death in developing nations. Why can't these intelligent scientists see this? Even if it's only for spoils of watermelon crops, the fine line between selling the entire source for fuel vs food will become invisible - just as it happened for corn and wheat.

    It took a global economic meltdown to correct food prices to help reset this stupidity. But it seems these morons (lets call a spade a spade) forgot this fact. All it takes is for watermelons to get expensive, and in poorer countries, you'll have the farmers selling their entire crops to bio-fuel companies.
  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:59PM (#29222937)
    I don't think its the fact that they can be turned into biofuel but the fact that we are pretty much just throwing away 20% of potential crops that can be used for it, so we wouldn't need to use new fields or change crops. On the other hand, pretty much all the corn grown for ethanol could be used for human consumption (yeah, you might need a different type of corn).
  • by JCSoRocks ( 1142053 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:17PM (#29223223)
    Good cropland is scarce enough as it is. Urban areas are constantly expanding and turning cropland into cityscape. It doesn't make much sense to hasten this trend by effectively converting space for growing food into space for fueling our vehicles.

    I swear, the only reason we continue to see these ridiculous schemes is because the fuel companies don't want to see everything go electric. It won't be long before battery technology catches up and allows us to drive a reasonable distance on a charge. (Or we could just take advantage of the various swappable battery technologies that have already been developed for cars.)
  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <{tms} {at} {infamous.net}> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:18PM (#29223245) Homepage

    Using food sources for bio-fuels has resulted in people STARVING to death in developing nations. Why can't these intelligent scientists see this?

    Perhaps because these intelligent scientists are intelligent enough to know that this is not true [chicagotribune.com]?

    Anyway, this idea is about using waste biomass for fuel.

    All it takes is for watermelons to get expensive, and in poorer countries, you'll have the farmers selling their entire crops to bio-fuel companies.

    And since no culture relies on watermelons as a basic sustenance crop, the problem with this is what, exactly?

  • Easy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @05:35PM (#29223465) Journal

    Have you ever held a fully grown watermelon?
    How about picked and loaded a truckfull of it, taken it to the market and then be told that you should either return a part of it cause they are bellow the buy-off quality or that you will be paid less for those watermelons, again on account of lower quality?

    It is WAY cheaper to do quality control before PICKING, and just grow more to cover for the statistics.

  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @06:04PM (#29223873)

    Exactly. Iowa's early primary ensures that any canidate trying to raise more money has to take the pledge to support ethanol as a biofuel. If they point out how wastefull and pointless it's been, they'll have a weak showing there, and their campaign contributions will take a hit. Plus no congressman with eyes on the presidency would be willing to vote against corn for the same reasons.

    Ethanol subsidies have been a huge waste, the money is all going to ADM [straightdope.com], which is the last company we should be giving it to [wikipedia.org].

    That wiki page also has some interesting stats on the taxes. "every $1 of profits earned by its ethanol operation costs taxpayers $30." And we're STILL dependant on oil. It's not even that they take corporate welfare, I'd be mad enough just based off how lousy an investment that is.

  • by nolifetillpleather ( 975338 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @06:23PM (#29224081)
    Pretty sure it's better to just bury those unused watermelons back under next season's crop. More compost means less fertilizer. Fertilizer comes from natural gas. If you want to use natural gas to move your car, you can just get a car that runs on natural gas. You don't have to convert it into watermelons first.
  • Re:Easy... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @07:19PM (#29224769)

    Well, yeah, the buyer doesn't want to sort the things themselves, that's obvious. The parent is asking where the B-grade buyers are, given there is such a large amount of left over fruit. There are lots of crops that are sold in different quality lots.

  • by bitemykarma ( 1515895 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @07:54PM (#29225151)

    The United States is, by far, the largest producer of corn in the world. Corn is grown on over 400,000 U.S. farms. In 2000, the U.S. produced almost ten billion bushels of the world's total 23 billion bushel crop. Corn grown for grain accounts for almost one quarter of the harvested crop acres in this country. Corn grown for silage accounts for about two percent of the total harvested cropland or about 6 million acres. The amount of land dedicated to corn silage production varies based on growing conditions. In years that produce weather unfavorable to high corn grain yields, corn can be "salvaged" by harvesting the entire plant as silage. According to the National Corn Growers Association, about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production. The crop is fed as ground grain, silage, high-moisture, and high-oil corn. About 12% of the U.S. corn crop ends up in foods that are either consumed directly (e.g. corn chips) or indirectly (e.g. high fructose corn syrup). It also has a wide array of industrial uses including ethanol, a popular oxygenate in cleaner burning auto fuels.

    http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/cropmajor.html [epa.gov]

  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MidnightBrewer ( 97195 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @08:44PM (#29225599)

    I love how the American government seems dead-set and determined to find the most inefficient crops to create bio-fuel (usable energy per square meter of crop sort of thing).

  • Maddness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spacefight ( 577141 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:51AM (#29228235)
    Growing food for producing fuel is just mad. mad. mad.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings