Sep. 26, 2012 at 11:21 AM ET
A dragster powered by biofuel brewed from cheese-making waste has set a blistering land-speed record for a one liter, two cylinder engine of 64.4 miles per hour.
“That, in that class, is fast,” Lance Seefeldt, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Utah State University, told NBC News on Tuesday.
Since no record existed for that size engine prior to Seefeldt's cruise down the Bonneville Salt Flats earlier this month, the the professor and his colleague first set the record with petroleum-derived diesel.
“Then we backed it up with the biodiesel we made from the waste cheese process,” Seefeldt said.
The waste is sugars that a yeast strain converts into oils that are then developed into biodiesel with a patent-pending procedure, he explained.
The team is also making biofuels with bacteria as well as microalgae, which convert carbon dioxide into fuel with energy from the sun.
They’ve tested all three in the lab and found them to “match commercial biodiesel in every way and, in some ways, they are even superior to petroleum diesel,” Seefeldt said.
For example, they burn cleaner and thus produce fewer air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, he said.
While the process to create the fuels is currently at the lab, proof-of-concept stage, the team can produce the yeast-derived version in gallon quantities.
That’s enough, they reckoned, to test the fuel in a small engine, so they built the Aggie-A-Salt dragster and raced at the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association’s 2012 World of Speed event.
Check out the video below for raw footage from the speed test.
Now that the record is set, the team is back in the lab scaling up the bacteria and microalgae processes to produce enough fuel to race with them next summer.
“We want to run them head-to-head against each other at our top speeds, which we’re confident will be much faster next year,” Seefeldt said.
If all continues to go well, he added, the raw materials to produce these fuels at commercial scales is readily abundant.
The cheese factory where the team sources their waste material, for example, produces enough in a day for 66,000 gallons of fuel.
“You could multiply that across the country and different waste streams and, so it is infinitely scalable,” Seefeldt said.
If the technology is also able to compete in price with fossil fuels, then our future really could be cheesy.