Future

A New 'OPEC' Energy Source: Biofuel from Brazilian Orange Peels

A London-based project dubbed OPEC (Orange Peel Exploitation Company) aims to make biofuel from the waste from the more than 10 million tons of oranges that Brazil squeezes into juice each year. It is the latest of many research projects aiming cut CO2 em

Oranges at the market in Sumaré, São Paulo (Mark Hillary)
Oranges at the market in Sumaré, São Paulo (Mark Hillary)
Loreto Urbina


LONDON - This year, Brazil produced 15 million tons of oranges. About 86% of those oranges were then turned into fresh orange juice. Imagine, then, the number of orange peels thrown away in Brazil.

The orange-peel abundance in Brazil is enough to attract attention from the British chemist James Clark, a professor at the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of York. Clark wowed the most recent British Science Festival by presenting a technique for converting orange peels into biofuel, using microwave energy. It is one of many research projects in the Old Continent attempting to develop biofuel in order to help reduce CO2 emissions.

Clark's technology is part of a project called OPEC (Orange Peel Exploitation Company). The process consists of crushing the orange peels, putting them in a microwave that resembles a giant home oven, and activating the cellulose and other components with the microwaves. "The orange peel has an interesting chemical composition that makes it very easy to convert into fuel," says Clark.

The European Union has contributed six million euros to the project. The Carbon Trust, a major British company that specializes in the renewal of carbon-based energy, and the University of São Paulo, have also collaborated. Now Clark and his group are working with a test processing unit, which allows them to process 30 kilos of orange peel (or other citrus peel) per hour.

Is It Really Worth It?

Between 1970 and 2009 Brazil doubled consumption of primary energy products such as oil and natural gas, while the country's consumption of secondary energy products such as gasoline increased by a factor of five. In terms of CO2 emissions, the past decades have seen an increase of some 88%.

In addition to being the world's leading producer of orange juice, Brazil is also one of the main providers of ethanol for biofuel. In 2010, it produced 2,600 million tons of ethanol, around 30.1% of total world production. Clark's project suggests a potential convergence of the two industries. But, is that possible, viable or even recommendable?

Supporters and critics of biofuels disagree. A recent study by economists at Oregon State University concluded that all of the current biofuel projects currently in use in the United States reduce the use of fossil fuel by only 2.5%, and cost some $67 billion. The same reduction could be achieved by a 2.5% tax per gallon of gasoline, and would cost a tenth as much.

"The problem with first-generation biofuels, especially in Brazil, is that tropical forests are being cut down to accommodate the crops, and that results in a significant loss in biodiversity and natural habitat," says Marvin Marcus, a scientist at the School of Biology of the University of Nottingham, who has worked on the Lignocellulosic Conversion to Ethanol (LACE) program, which focuses on producing ethanol from agricultural waste.

These biofuels, created from waste products, would be the second generation. Europe has her sights set on this second generation, particularly in the production of ethanol from waste straw. Although Marcus dismisses the idea that it is possible to create a technology that will not have environmental side effects, biofuel extracted from waste products would be a much more environmentally friendly product.

Chilean-born Claudio Ávila, from the Department of Chemistry and Engineering at the University of York, agrees with Marcus about the environmental side effects of some biofuels, arguing that the indiscriminate use of resources for biofuel threatens food security and generates large areas of monoculture to satisfy the raw material needs for fuel production. However, Ávila maintains that these collateral damages will decrease "as the technology evolves, which depends on economic and social factors."

Ávila says the main barrier to biofuel production in Latin American is the need for large investments, and the low long-term returns. However, he is confident that biofuels can provide for the energy needs of small communities that are far from large economies of scale. For example, the methane gas from the fermentation of garbage "could be a valuable source of energy for a small agricultural community that needs heat for homes and greenhouses," Ávila says.

Cheap and mobile

Meanwhile, Clark defends his microwave technology precisely because of its low costs, and the fact that the orange peels do not require a refinery like those used for oil. The microwave machine is relatively small, and easy to move to wherever the waste is. "The largest microwave that I know of, which can work with 6 tons per hour, is only 5 or 6 meters long," Clark says.

For Igor Polikarpov, professor at the Physics Institute of São Carlos, the use of orange peels as the raw material for biofuels is an interesting development. "But it is necessary to put in the equation a way to increase the added value with the available technologies. Limonene (the largest component in the oil found in orange peels), has a high added value. Using it as the raw material for the generation of biofuels will make the whole process much cheaper," he says.

This reduction in price, Polikarpov says, is fundamental if the process if going to be commercially competitive. At the moment, the orange peels are used primarily as animal food, so almost any other use would end up being more profitable for the producers.

If the project comes to fruition, it is likely that your morning glass of orange juice will also help fill your gas tank.

Read more from AméricaEconomía in Spanish

Photo - Mark Hillary

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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