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These Alligator Boots Are Made For Driving
August 18, 2011 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Researchers Find That Alligator Fat Could Be a New Source of Biodiesel. Alligator farming is alive and well in the United States and elsewhere but traditionally it's all about the animals' skin and meat. Now it seems that there may also be a use for the 15 million pounds of alligator fat that are currently being deposited in land fills every year: bio diesel.
posted by Hairy Lobster (58 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh man, I was about to commit my own mortal sin! DO NOT FAULT ENERGY SOURCE AS BEING "TOO SMALL". EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS. If anything, having many small sources is better than having an energy monoculture.

That said...alligators? I think there are reasons to object to this that have nothing to do with the size of the contribution.
posted by DU at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2011


There's 15 million pounds of excess alligator fat produced annually?

What?
posted by GuyZero at 11:42 AM on August 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


But they already do with with turkey processing waste I think, so yeah, no need to dump it in a hole.
posted by GuyZero at 11:42 AM on August 18, 2011


Caveat: the 15 million pound figure for fat seems to not quit fit with the comparably low numbers given in the Wikipedia link for the alligator market (300,000 lbs of meat, 45,000 hides). Maybe the Wikipedia numbers are older or maybe the numbers are incorrect. There is, to my moderate surprise, not a whole lot of online resources for alligator fat statistics and I haven't been able to verify these numbers beyond what I linked in the post.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:42 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


quit = quite

guh
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:43 AM on August 18, 2011


MetaFilter: a whole lot of online resources for alligator fat statistics.
posted by GuyZero at 11:43 AM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Google is going to be really impressed when I nail the answer to their "Estimate how much alligator fat is produced annually in the US" job interview question.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wolfram Alpha sadly does not have the answer to this question.
posted by benzenedream at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, sorry for the thread sitting but I couldn't let go of what looked like an apparent discrepancy and found some more data. According to another Wikipedia bit of information the average weight of an adult alligator is about 800lbs. If you assume an easy number of 25% body fat that would amount to 75,000 alligators. So I guess the numbers may not be as far off as I thought.

Anyhow, I'm gonna stop commenting on my own post now.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2011


it's all those damned marshmallows.
posted by The Whelk at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


I have to say that this is pretty fascinating. There. I've said it.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2011


Wikipedia is unclear whether the 300,000lbs figure is from farming only, or from farmed and caught. Given the number of TV shows with cajuns zooming around swamps shooting alligators in the head, I think the larger number is easily obtainable.
posted by IanMorr at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2011


Alligators always seemed so lean to me.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Any sufficiently energy-dense biological matter could be made into biofuel, theoretically, couldn't it?

I'm not looking forward to a future in which a lack of energy technology innovation has us stuffing people into cars, but I am looking forward to seeing a dystopian comedy in which that happens.

Whelk, are you busy? Need script punch-up
posted by clockzero at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to another Wikipedia bit of information the average weight of an adult alligator is about 800lbs. If you assume an easy number of 25% body fat that would amount to 75,000 alligators.

Who only have 4 lbs of meat on them each?
posted by DU at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2011


We have an epidemic of obesity in our alligator population!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:57 AM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


it's all those damned marshmallows poodles.
posted by marxchivist at 11:58 AM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


So... when do we start seeing a new revenue stream in liposuction clinics?
posted by valkyryn at 11:59 AM on August 18, 2011


Biodiesel is a great idea, but why aren't they using the alligator fat already, as in animal feed, etc.? Industries are already set up to use all kinds of animal production waste.
posted by annsunny at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sometimes, the biodiesel will use the fat from an alligator. You know what that's called?

BLUBBER.

(bulbous bouffant, macadamia, alligator shindig, alligator spatula)
posted by Tknophobia at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


This sounds like a good use for a bunch of weird waste, but the first link is really overselling this as a solution. 45 billion gallons of diesel minus 1.25 million gallons of diesel = basically 45 billion gallons of diesel.
posted by dosterm at 12:10 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean, really, 340,000 procedures a year, times, say, ten pounds each, is 3.4 million pounds of fat.
posted by valkyryn at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2011


I wish "15 million pounds of alligator fat" was my MeFi handle.
posted by Gelatin at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


> That said...alligators? I think there are reasons to object to this that have nothing to do with the size of the contribution.

Why, if the stuff is just going to waste then it could at least be put to some use.

> Biodiesel is a great idea, but why aren't they using the alligator fat already, as in animal feed, etc.?

Mainly because alligator farming/processing operations arei mostly a mom and pop owned and don't have a high degree of sophistication. Something like this could serve as a catalyst to standardize that somewhat.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:14 PM on August 18, 2011


According to the US EIA, about 250-350 x 106 gallons (Mgal) of biodiesel are used in the US annually, about 0.5% (very roughly) of the total diesel fuel used. If my math is right, 15,000,000 lbs of fat converts to about 1.2 Mgal of biofuel annually (100% conversion of all fuel). This would be about 0.5% of the total biodiesel market.

Not nothing, but not huge either. If the farmers can sell it for more than $2-3/lb, it probably doesn't make economic sense either, given the input costs of conversion.
posted by bonehead at 12:15 PM on August 18, 2011


(sorry, can't read the article. that page throw errors for me and doesn't display text).
posted by bonehead at 12:17 PM on August 18, 2011


That said...alligators? I think there are reasons to object to this that have nothing to do with the size of the contribution.

The main one, to my mind, is that, once the processing plants get set up, there will be issues with supply. Then some smart science guy will get the idea of creating 100' alligators with a predisposition to overeating, and then the trouble will start....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:19 PM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Consider the spherical aligator..."
posted by bonehead at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


In theory I'm ok with this, but a sense a slippery slope leading to the production of biodiesel from stingray fat, and we know how that will end.
posted by 7segment at 12:23 PM on August 18, 2011


No, I will not tell you my BMI. Stop asking.
posted by Gator at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wolfram Alpha sadly does not have the answer to this question.

My inability to keep Wolfram Alpha straight from Memory Alpha leads to no end of confusion in my life.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:33 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the answer, Horselover Phattie.
posted by annsunny at 12:33 PM on August 18, 2011


::gives Gator a marshmallow::
posted by quin at 12:33 PM on August 18, 2011


I would wager that rather than trying to process the stuff for bio-diesel the harversters could just purify it, bottle, and sell it to Asian markets after creating some buzz that frying food in 'gator oil will increase sexual stamina or something. "The fried chicken that gives you a boner."
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:43 PM on August 18, 2011


I wish "15 million pounds of alligator fat" was my MeFi handle.

Still, you're another day older and deeper in debt.
posted by GuyZero at 12:46 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing to keep in mind is Gator fat is SO nasty that the natives used it for mosqito repellent. When an old Mercedes rolls by burning used fryer oil it smells like french fries; if its running gator it's going to smell like dead fish butthole.
posted by The Power Nap at 12:51 PM on August 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is an obvious move, when you think about it. Instead of letting reptiles die naturally, get buried, and cook for millions of years underground in order to turn them into oil, we can now do it immediately. Think of it as cutting out the middle-earth.
posted by The Tensor at 12:56 PM on August 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


A - Alligators All Around
B - Biodiesel fuel
C - Converting Fat
D - Doing complex Wikipedia based calculations
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


alligator farming/processing operations are mostly mom and pop owned... Something like this could serve as a catalyst to standardize that somewhat

standardize conglomerate/vertically integrate/inject the glory and demands of large bodies of external capital into those great fat reserves. And also acquire access to lucrative government subsidies.

If this actually defies the long odds and gains momentum, within a few years all those cutesy rural Mom+Pop alligator farm tourist traps are going to look like our typically dystopian pig farms. Complete with some kind of complicated ownership scheme that ultimately leads to a commodities holding firm in Wichita or Minnesota.

I'm mostly joking though. An organism whose growth takes 8-13 years to plateau, and needs to be carefully reared in giant wading pools the whole time is not such a great target for intensified industrial rearing and harvesting, unless they're going to develop a liposuction procedure to milk the fat from live alligators. It's still a fairly small niche, but if they're lucky, repurposing the fat can be tied in with other lipid recycling/reclamation chains (restaurant grease for instance). Of course, whatever the precise shape of the economics, development of a serious, animal fat-based fuel generation complex is going to increase the pressure to start recycling human medical lipids. Thick Diesel!
posted by waterunderground at 1:17 PM on August 18, 2011


GenjiandProust: "Then some smart science guy will get the idea of creating 100' alligators with a predisposition to overeating, and then the trouble will start...."

Don't give SyFy any more ideas.
posted by brundlefly at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2011


This is an obvious move, when you think about it. Instead of letting reptiles die naturally, get buried, and cook for millions of years underground in order to turn them into oil, we can now do it immediately. Think of it as cutting out the middle-earth.

And all we have to do is replace *millions of years of geothermal work* with *an investment of energy in the processing procedure that comes close to cancelling out the energy gained in biofuel, while still polluting the environment dramatically*!
posted by FatherDagon at 1:19 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Put a tiger gator in your tank!
posted by Mister_A at 1:30 PM on August 18, 2011


We have an epidemic of obesity in our alligator population!

How else are they supposed to handle a tree full of monkeys teasing "can't catch me?" *snap*
posted by jrossi4r at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2011


A duck-farm collective in France is doing pretty much the same thing with waste/excess duck fat.
posted by porpoise at 1:49 PM on August 18, 2011


Think of it as cutting out the middle-earth

Hey! Bio-Diesel Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
Fat from Old Man Gator's gut, which dwells within swamp water
Pour the tallow in your car! It will run much hotter
Make candles of the fishy fat, they will burn much brighter
But hasten during lipo-suck, Old Man Gator is a biter

[I apologize to everyone everywhere]
posted by benzenedream at 2:07 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is gonna freak the shit out of Archer.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2011


If I could drive a truck exclusively powered by corn liquor and gator fat I would be a very happy man.
posted by fido~depravo at 2:42 PM on August 18, 2011


viscosity stats may vary.
posted by clavdivs at 2:58 PM on August 18, 2011


When Amos Moses was a boy his daddy would use him for alligator bait.
posted by cybrcamper at 3:07 PM on August 18, 2011


How in the hell can we (society) waste stuff so horribly. All that organic waste ought tone ending up in a rendering plant. Bloody stupid not to use it.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:29 PM on August 18, 2011


So we're pretty much headed for a future where the poor don't just sell blood but sell off their fat for cash? Well...huh. Guess that's better than selling a kidney.
posted by emjaybee at 4:16 PM on August 18, 2011


This gives a whole new meaning to the term "fat farm," doesn't it.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:29 PM on August 18, 2011


> All that organic waste ought tone ending up in a rendering plant. Bloody stupid not to use it.

I agree, but again with these alligator farms we're mostly talking about out of the way rural places that often operate relatively autonomously rather than some kind of integrated production chain. I think steps like 'gator fuel might be a good way of fostering connections which could then be leveraged for future innovations. The main thing, though, is that this is such a niche thing at this point that it probably will take as much if not more resources to collect the stuff than is lost simply by throwing it out.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 4:37 PM on August 18, 2011


Is there no regulation for the disposal of carcasses? They can actually get away with landfilling it?

Crazy.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:26 PM on August 18, 2011


Here's the info on alligator farming in Florida, and more harvest data (and a bunch more stuff about gators in the sidebar) (I love the FWC site).
posted by Gator at 9:34 PM on August 18, 2011


Mmmm. Fermented alligator product. Slim Gator Jims.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:01 PM on August 18, 2011


GP: Is there an essential meaning behind POEE?
M2: There is a Zen Story about a student who asked a Master to explain the meaning of Buddhism. The Master's reply was "Three pounds of flax."
GP: Is that the answer to my question?
M2: No, of course not. That is just illustrative. The answer to your question is FIVE TONS OF FLAX!FIFTEEN MILLION POUNDS OF ALLIGATOR FAT!

posted by eritain at 10:08 PM on August 18, 2011


INTERIOR CROCODILE ALLIGATOR
I DRIVE A CHEVROLET MOVIE THEATER
posted by kcds at 7:06 PM on August 19, 2011


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