/ 12 March 2007

New juice for Spanish cars

The orange groves of Valencia could soon be powering Spanish cars as a new technology is developed to turn the fruit’s thick, shiny peel into biofuel.

In a region with 190 000ha covered with oranges and lemons, citric-powered cars could reduce pollution while using a readily available source of energy, according to local officials.

The presence of a Ford car factory in the town of Almussafes adds to the potential for the region.

“We have a car plant … and we have the oranges,” explained Esteban Gonzalez, head of planning at the regional government of Valencia.

Oranges and lemons have been cultivated along the east coast since at least the 18th century and are still the region’s biggest export product.

Valencia produces four million tonnes of oranges a year, most of which are squeezed into juice. Most of the 240 000 tonnes of waste is sold as animal feed, but it could be turned into bioethanol.

Each tonne of pulp could more than fill the average car’s petrol tank, producing 80 litres of bioethanol.

Once the new juice plant planned for the region is completed, waste output would rise to 500 000 tonnes, Gonzalez said. “That would be enough to produce 37,5-million litres of bioethanol,” he added.

Valencia plans to use the technology being developed in another orange-growing region of the world, Florida.

A distribution network around the Valencia region would sell the fuel to locals, who would pay about 40% less per litre than they pay for petrol.

The bioethanol project will not just use up pulp left over from juicing; it could also cope with much of the fruit that farmers leave on trees where it is no longer profitable to harvest them.

Local officials claim they could reduce the region’s dependency on petrol by up to 40% while creating 2 500 jobs and revitalising a sector that pays for the upkeep of 100 000 families.

Spain, with the rest of the European Union, has a goal of replacing almost 6% of transport fuel with bioethanol or oilseed-based biodiesel by 2010 as part of its efforts to halt global warming.

Valencia’s orange juice fuel would account for 1% of the country’s totaltransport fuel consumption. — Â