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Newsbeat: Gators for Gas

Alligators are a common sight around south Louisiana, even on the roadways. In the future, however, they could also end up in our gas tanks. Researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette recently completed a lab study showing the unique potential for turning alligator fat into biodiesel fuel.

“Alligator fat doesn’t have a use now, so we looked at it and said, can we make something of value from this?” says Rakesh Bajpai, one of the study’s authors.
In some ways, the composition of alligator fat is closer to plant oils than typical animal fats, making it a better candidate for biodiesel conversion, he says. While alligators are valued for their hides and for their meat, their fat is usually heaped into landfills. The ULL study estimated that the 15 million pounds of this fat now annually discarded by the alligator processing industry could be turned into some 1.3 million gallons of biodiesel.

 While that would make just a tiny dent in present U.S. fuel consumption, Mark Zappi, a co-author of the study and dean of engineering at ULL, says it still represents an important new way of looking at waste and energy needs.

 “We’re not going to solve the American energy crisis with just measures like this, but if you’re doing these things already, producing this waste, and you can get value out of it, you should look into it,” says Zappi.

 “You’re taking material that now has to be treated as waste and dealt with in that way as an expense, and you’re turning it into something that’s valuable, that can be profitable and that is reducing your energy needs by that much, so it’s a win all around,” he says.

Alligator fat is just part of a long list of everyday materials and wastes the researchers are studying as potential fuel sources, including some staples that Louisiana has in abundance.  

“The next things we’re looking at are crab and shrimp waste,” Zappi says. “Shrimp waste in particular is showing a lot of promise.”

“It’s a whole new paradigm,” he says. “I think in 50 to 100 years, people will look at our landfills and wonder what we were thinking throwing all of this away.”

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