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Watermelon-automobiles Next?


#fnbworld bureau/New Delhi

watermelon carsMillions of plump watermelons are left to rot each year in the country. Now there's a way to turn them into ethanol. With mid-summer nightmare in progress, juicy watermelons are the perfect coolers to quench thirst. But have you thought how many watermelons are turned down for being deformed or disfigured?

Here lies the secret power of such languishing watermelons. The watermelons came to India around the fourth century AD. Susruta, the great Indian physician and surgeon, who wrote the Susruta Samhita, mentions that watermelons were cultivated along the banks of the Indus river. He calls the fruit kalinda or kalinga (hence kalingad in Marathi).

A very large number of watermelon varieties are grown in India. They have very exotic names like Noorjehani, Anarkali, Sharbat-e-Anar, etc. Some varieties are named after the towns near which they are grown in Faizabadi, Jaunpuri and Farukhabadi - all of them along the banks of the Ganga and the Yamuna. The watermelon consists of 93% water. India imports nearly 70% of its annual crude petroleum requirement, which is nearly.110 million tons.

The prices are in the range of US$ 50-70 per barrel, and the expenditure on crude purchase is in the range of Rs.1,600 billion per year, impacting in a big way, the country's foreign exchange reserves. Ethanol production for automobile from waste materials, not impacting on food grains is thus a viable option for India in subsidizing the high cost of import and production of conventional fossil fuels.

Out of the 400 billion pounds of watermelons grown each year in the US, 800 million pounds are rejected because they are either blemished or deformed. Now there is a use for all those rotting watermelons in the US and likewise for India.

The Science Daily reports that a 20 pound watermelon can yield a 1.5 pounds of sugar, enough to produce 7/10 of a pound of ethanol. And a chemist Wayne Fish has also shown that ethanol can be extracted from the waste stream of watermelons used for nutraceuticals (like lycopene a powerful anti-oxident). This is good news for the watermelon industry. Farmers gain an extra cash crop and the nutraceutical industry which extracts watermelon compounds, will have reduced expense on waste water treatment.

Agricultural Research Services (ARS) is perfecting a method for extracting watermelon ethanol and developing an intercroping method, whereby other ethanol crops like sweet sorghum could be rotated with the watermelon crop, providing a year-round source of ethanol. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol), is a clear, colorless liquid with a characteristic, agreeable odor. This is the drinkable (though toxic) alcohol, the active ingredient in beer, wine and spirits. Methanol (methyl alcohol, wood alcohol) is much more poisonous and isn't drinkable at all, it kills people. Ethanol is also a high-performance motor fuel that cuts poisonous exhaust emissions and is better for the environment. Henry Ford designed the famed Model T Ford to run on alcohol -- he said it was "the fuel of the future".

The oil companies thought otherwise, however -- but the oil crisis of the early 1970s gave ethanol fuel a new lease of life. The US leads the world in ethanol production (ahead of Brazil), with 7 billion gallons of cleaner, ethanol-blended gasoline used in 2007, about 12% of fuel sales in the US.
Most of it is E85 (85% ethanol 15% gasoline) or E10 (10% ethanol 90% gasoline), which most gasoline cars can use without engine conversion. Ethanol blends are increasingly used in South Africa, while Brazil, the world's ethanol fuel success story, produces four billion gallons of ethanol a year. All Brazilian fuel contains at least 24% ethanol, and much of it is 100% ethanol!

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