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Wooden Tires and Chicken Fuel

Last week, researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry released findings of their study of uses of microcrystalline cellulose, a product that can be cheaply derived from plant fibers. The researchers discovered they could replace about 12 percent of the silica usually used in tire manufacture. As any gearhead that follows racing knows, silica is the component that adds wet-weather grip to a tire compound, and the study showed the plant-derived material supplied similar levels of adhesion, although more long-term study is required. The benefits? Microcrystalline cellulose is cheap and easy to produce from cellulose, as opposed to carbon black and silica, which are both energy-intensive to make. Although further study is needed to determine long-term durability, the prospect of cheaper tires (of similar quality, hopefully) is always welcome to those of us who pile on the miles.

If that’s not green enough to make Ed Begley, Jr. happy, why not fill whatever smugmobile he’s driving these days up with chicken fuel? How can such a thing be possible? It’s easy, says another team of researchers, this time from the University of Nevada’s Chemicals and Engineering department. They boiled the fat out of feather meal (which is a tasty hydrolyzed blend of chicken feathers, blood and guts) to produce a standard-quality biofuel comparable to other biofuels derived from feedstock. The team has also made biofuel out of coffee grounds.

We eat a lot of chicken here in the USA, and disposal of the waste is actually a problem for some processors. But worry no more, chicken farmers; “Given the amount of feather meal produced by the poultry industry,” states the report, “it is estimated that this process can create 150-200 million gallons of biodiesel in the United States and 593.2 million gallons worldwide (annually).” Unfortunately, Americans use about 385 million gallons of gas a day, according to the Energy Information Administration. Looks like we’ll have to get over to KFC a little more. Maybe 600 extra times a year.

So, will the adventure rider of the future be riding an EVA turbo diesel motorcycle? Perhaps. But he may need a lumber mill and a chicken coop.