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From Plate to Car

Discussion of turning food waste into energy
February 22, 2011 - McCormick Lecture Hall

While no elephant actually lives in Bar Harbor, each year the town produces the equivalent waste of 220 elephants, according to a group of College of the Atlantic students. But rather than deploring this waste, these students hope to harness it, turning it into fuel. The students will discuss their plans in a talk called "From Plate to Car: Turning Food Waste into Energy" on Tuesday, February 22 at 4 p.m. in the college's McCormick Lecture Hall. The talk is part of the college's weekly Human Ecology Forum.

When lawns are mowed, weeds pulled, leaves raked, and branches clipped, the waste is transported away from the home, sometimes even off the island. The same is true for the large amount of waste from Bar Harbor's restaurants, hotels, and inns. It is this waste that the COA student group is hoping to turn into fuel that can be used in any gasoline-burning car with little or no modification of the engine.

Using bacterial fermentation, the students are planning to convert this biomass waste into a liquid fuel known as butanol. The students - Nicholas Harris, Lisa Bjerke, Matthew McElwee and Cayla Moore - have been studying the possibilities in various COA classes. They believe that butanol made from biomass waste could be a viable gasoline alternative, and are working to launch their own enterprise, Gourmet Butanol.

But there are still questions to be answered: What will the infrastructure look like? How will this fuel be introduced into the market? What are the trade-offs and possible problems? The students will discuss these issues and others on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. in the college's McCormick Lecture Hall. For more information, contact John Visvader at or 207-801-5717, or the college at 288-5015 or The talk is free and open to the public.

 Caption: COA student Lisa Bjerke hauls compost.

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