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Gator power: Alligator fat pitched as biodiesel

Millions of pounds of fat from alligators, which are not threatened, is thrown away every year but the fat is more suitable than other animal fats for biodiesel, a study finds.

The alligator, an animal that's been around since the time of the dinosaurs, can help reduce our use of fossil fuels, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Louisiana yesterday published a paper that concluded alligator fat has good potential for biodiesel. Fifteen million pounds of alligator fat is disposed of in landfills annually from U.S. industry, which slaughters alligators for their skin and meat.

CC Bogeskov/Flickr

The focus of the research was to understand the characteristics of alligator oil and to see whether it could be easily converted into biodiesel. The researchers found that alligator oil is worth pursuing because it is currently a waste product and would serve better than lard from some other animals.

Using alligator fat would also curb demand on soybeans, which is the primary source for biodiesel in the U.S. About 21 percent of soybean production goes to making biodiesel but there's ongoing concern that greater demand for soy biodiesel will increase food and animal feed prices.

The 15 million pounds of alligator waste that is thrown away now could be converted to 1.25 million gallons of fuel with an energy content of 91 percent, Rakesh Bajpai, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Louisiana, told The New York Times. He estimated that processing would cost $2.40 a gallon, assuming the fat is free.

For comparison, the study points out that 700 million gallons of biodiesel were created from soybeans in 2008. So at its current consumption rate, alligator oil could serve just a small fraction of current demand. As the researchers point out, though, alligator fat is currently thrown away and is well suited suitable chemically for biodiesel.

American alligators, which live in the southern U.S., are not an endangered species, although crocodiles are.