Biofuels are the green-seeming answer to the fossil fuel problem that environmentalists love to hate—and for good reason. While turning food crops like corn into ethanol appears to be a good idea, the conversion process can use up more energy than it's worth. Not to mention that crops-for-fuel take up field space that would often be better used to grow food in a time of global shortages and escalating prices.

So why not use one of mother nature's natural waste products—say, orange peels—as the raw material for biofuels and other petroleum-derived products? A chemist at the University of York in the United Kingdom has piloted a technique to do just that. Using high-powered microwaves, James Clark has figured out how to capture gas from fruit peels that can be converted into a variety of useful materials, from plastics to ethanol.

In response to Clark's success in the lab, the university has announced a new initiative called the Orange Peel Exploitation Company, a nerd pun on a less-green organization with the same acronym. The new initiative is a research partnership between the University of York and universities in places with serious fruit industries: Spain and Brazil. According to Clark, Brazil's orange juice industry currently leaves three million tons of orange peel a year to rot, a form of waste that is "economically and socially unacceptable as well as representing a major loss of resource." OPEC will make it its mission to explore the possibilities of such waste, potentially turning orange peels into orange gold.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user matsuyuki

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