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Recycle yule into Christmas alt-fuel

By Keith Barry
Christmas waste, fruitcake included, technically could be turned into fuel.
Christmas waste, fruitcake included, technically could be turned into fuel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Automotive engineer and alt-fuel expert says Christmas waste could become fuel
  • It may sound "South Park-ish," but turning fruitcake into biofuel is doable, he says
  • Gasification of reindeer poo, trees, wrapping paper -- all in humorous realm of possibility
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(WIRED) -- For all the joy of Christmas morning, there's certainly a lot of waste involved.

Reams of wrapping paper, forests of evergreens and piles of unwanted fruitcakes are discarded after the holidays.

That got us thinking: Wouldn't it be great if some of that trash could be repurposed as fuel?

Turns out it can.

We checked with Spencer Quong, an automotive engineer and alt-fuels expert with a sense of humor. He was with the Union of Concerned Scientists before launching his own consulting biz, Quong & Associates.

He assured us that family gatherings aren't the only sources of combustion during the holidays. Pretty much everything you discard at the holidays could, theoretically, be used as fuel, though Quong warns "it's hard to think of something that isn't South Park-ish."

We'll get to that in a moment.

But first on our list is fruitcake. They certainly aren't edible, and they'll take about a million years to biodegrade, so what the hell are we supposed to do with them?

The answer is simple. Biofuel.

"There is, in the fruitcake, sugar and grain," Quong told Autopia. "All of that can be converted to ethanol."

While Quong conceded that the refining process would be cost-prohibitive, the supply is nearly endless.

"There's probably a million fruitcakes that have been passed around for 20 years," he said.

There is, in the fruitcake, sugar and grain. All of that can be converted to ethanol.
--Spencer Quong, automotive engineer and alt-fuels expert

We all spend too much time carefully wrapping gifts, only to have the recipients mindlessly rip all that paper and ribbon to shreds. Quong says you can turn it into cellulosic ethanol.

Got a diesel in the driveway? Increased consumption of Chinese food on Christmas Eve would inevitably yield waste cooking oil that could be used as biodiesel.

If you're really ambitious, convert the car to run on veggie oil.

Christmas trees and yule logs are ripe for gasification, a process that creates synthetic fuel from carbonaceous solids. Unfortunately, Santa and his reindeer might end up coughing from the resulting pollution.

"Gasification is a little bit out there because of the smog emissions that come with it, and carrying all that equipment is difficult," Quong said.

Speaking of reindeer, biomethane captured from Rudolph's refuse may be an ideal source of renewable energy.

"It's very similar to cow manure," Quong said. "You take the methane that comes off that, and then you can power vehicles from that."

While reindeer poo could power UPS trucks bearing gifts, we're still glad Gene Autry never got the chance to sing about it.

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