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Researchers Explore Making Biofuel from Watermelons

August 31, 2009

LANE, OK --- The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Lane, Okla., have shown that simple sugars in watermelon juice can be made into ethanol. 

The watermelon-to-ethanol research was published last week in Biotechnology for Biofuels. 

In 2007, growers harvested 4 billion pounds of watermelon for fresh and cut-fruit markets. Around 800 million pounds -- or 20 percent of the total -- were left in fields because of external blemishes or deformities, the USDA said. Now, such melons could get an economic "new lease on life" as ethanol. 

Chemist Wayne Fish's ethanol studies at the ARS South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane complement other research there to commercially extract lycopene and citrulline from the crop. In the published research, Fish showed ethanol can be fermented from the glucose, fructose and sucrose in waste-stream juices -- what's left after lycopene and citrulline are extracted. 

On average, a 20-pound watermelon will yield about 1.4 pounds of sugar from the flesh and rind. 

A small biofuels company in College Station, Texas, has agreed to build a vehicle that could begin traveling next summer to watermelon fields to produce ethanol on-site, the New York Times reported. "We're trying to assemble the equipment at this time, and as you know, the crop year for watermelons is on right now, so we're in good shape for next season," Jim Rausch, president of Common Sense Agriculture, told the Times.


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