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Alternative Fuel: A Watermelon In Your Tank?

Watermelon has long occupied a space at the top of the list when it comes to a favorite cooling treat on a hot summer day. Now alternative fuel specialists say the juicy melon might also be pumped into our gas tanks to power our automobiles.

Experts at a USDA Research Center in Oklahoma say the juicy fruit can be made into ethanol, the renewable, clean burning fuel that’s become the staple of the alternative energy movement.  Estimates show that every year roughly 20-40% of the U.S. watermelon crop is deemed unfit for grocery stores because it’s misshapen or otherwise cosmetically imperfect.  Even the smallest bite out of the rind by a bird or insect is enough to turn melons into rejects. Thus about 360,000 tons of watermelon annually are left to rot in the fields and eventually plowed under.  Farmers have long rued the waste and wondered if they could find some use for the imperfect fruit.  Now researchers have shown that the juice from the melons can help boost the production of ethanol, the bio-fuel made from plant sugars.

Although watermelon contains only has about half the sugar necessary to convert it to pure ethanol, it can be used in combination with corn, sugar cane and molasses to boost productivity of the fuel.  In addition to sugar, the melon also has high concentrations of amino acids that are needed to boost fermentation in the production process.  It also has a lot of water, which can cut down on the amount of liquid used in ethanol production.  Watermelon isn’t going to become a primary ingredient in the fuel, but it can reduce the amount of corn and molasses need by as much as 15%.

So, next time you bite into a slice of the succulent red fruit at a backyard cookout, note that the sugary juice dripping down your chin might soon become part of what’s powering your automobile.