Students at Utah State University set a land speed record at the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association’s 2012 World of Speed event in early September with an unusual vehicle: a home-built drag racer powered by a tiny, 22-horsepower, two-cylinder engine. Even more remarkable, the vehicle ran on a novel form of biodiesel synthesized from the copious waste products of industrial cheese-making, which means it “doesn’t compete for existing food supplies,” said Jeff Dubois, a spokesperson for Utah State, via email.
“Developing a biofuel on a large enough scale to run in the dragster was a tough undertaking,” said Utah State biochemist Alex McCurdy. Conventional biofuels, such ethanol made from sugar-cane, are often derived by adding enzymes to the raw material, but this process involved living yeast and bacteria.
Which is not to say that we’re about to run our civilization on curds and whey; as with all biofuels derived from waste, there’s not that much raw material to make them from, in comparison to the vast oceans of fossil fuels we currently use.
The vehicle’s top speed was 64.396 miles an hour—not bad for something barely more powerful than a riding lawnmower. The vehicle raced in a class known as “I/DS,” which means it beat all previous contenders running on one-liter engines.