Maggots could fuel cars

US SCIENTISTS have developed what they think could be a new – if particularly gross – source of high quality biodiesel: maggots.

Haydn Black

And, as most people have had the misfortune to discover, it is sadly easy to grow maggots, so they are a readily renewable resource.

Researchers in Hawaii grew larvae of the black soldier fly on food waste for around two weeks. They then collected the larva before drying them and separating the remains into their oil and protein constituents.

The fly larvae were fed on mixed food waste from cafeterias in Hawaii and South Carolina. After gorging themselves, black fly larvae instinctively migrate towards a dry area in order to pupate into adult flies. This tendency allowed the researchers to easily collect the larvae just before maturation, and subsequently collect their biofuel-friendly fats.

The team found that the oil obtained from the dried larvae had a composition ideal for producing biodiesel.

The oil was rich in “medium chain saturated fatty acids,” compounds which, when chemically reacted with alcohol, produce low viscosity, highly stable biodiesel.

Their results, in the journal Renewable Energy, suggest that the next generation of biodiesel could potentially be created from sources that do not compete for land and water with the agriculture industry.

The majority of today’s biodiesel is produced using oil derived from plants such as soybean, sunflower and palms.

Using maggots would remove the need to use agricultural land and could make the production of biodiesel simpler and cheaper, and all that would be needed as the feedstock would be organic waste, which humanity is amazing at creating in large amounts.

As well as producing biofuel-friendly oil, black soldier fly larvae can consume between 40-70% of the organic waste on which they feed, because they do not eat during their 5-8 daylifespan following their transformation into the black soldier fly.

The idea to use insects is not new.

In 2014 Chinese researchers from Huazhong Agricultural University managed to extract 21.6% of crude grease from common housefly (Musca domestica L) larvae reared on swine manure, and the extracted grease was evaluated for its potential for biodiesel production.

The results were considered promising.

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