Feb 21 2012

Immodest Disposal


In times such as these, when educated people are called upon to propose radical solutions to the most extreme of our modern dilemmas, it is of no use proposing solutions that solve only one problem at a time. We must look to solutions that solve all of our problems at once; solutions that are cheap and available to the average citizen; and, of paramount importance, solutions that are favorable to both corporate empires as well as the uneducated masses. That is why I propose a transfer of energy stores that can ease our fuel burden, stimulate multiple markets, and provide increased quality of life. This energy transfer will not only harvest valuable sustainable resources, but will also restore self-esteem and hope to the most put-upon negative stereotype of American culture. Yes, you understand my proposal perfectly; I am talking about harvesting human body fat for fuel.

Human body fat is a sustainable resource. It could even be considered a surplus resource, because according to every study ever done since WWII Americans have too much body fat. Having too much body fat is not only a health issue… it’s a fuel issue. If a person is thirty pounds overweight, that extra weight will affect their fuel mileage just as if their car was thirty pounds heavier, like carrying a spare tire in your stomach. If a person is a hundred pounds overweight, that is like paying for fuel for another small passenger wherever they travel. The human body stores fat for fuel, and a fit human can walk up-to forty miles or bike two hundred miles on the energy stored in a pound of fat. But if you are overweight it takes more fat to walk the same distance. And if you don’t walk or bike, and travel only by powered vehicle, you are carrying extra fuel wherever you go and wasting fuel to move it around. This is simple physics. If you like to eat, and you drive everywhere, then optimally you would like to convert all that extra fat on your body into fuel for your car, so you could commute ten miles on that same pound of fat, save energy on the weight of the transport cost, and stay in shape while doing it. This is a win for everyone involved. But is this a realistic solution?

Can You Fuel A Car With Body Fat?

It is very easy to burn human body fat for fuel. Human body fat is an oil and it can be rendered and burned like any other oil. This means it can be used as biodiesel to power a car engine. In energy terms, the average BTU of a gallon of human body fat is actually 11% higher than the BTU of a gallon of diesel gasoline. ( According to Griffin Industries, a gallon of rendered mammal fat is equal to 127,000 BTUs. Wikipedia rates gasoline at 114,000 BTUs per gallon.)  In 2008 a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon named Craig Alan Bittner used fat removed from his liposuction patients to power his Ford SUV and his girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator.

The bizarre details of this case were reported in a lawsuit where patients claimed Bittner allowed unlicensed staff members with no medical degrees to harvest body fat from patients, and in some cases the excess removal of body fat left patients deformed and disfigured. In California, it’s illegal to use human biomedical waste to fuel a vehicle, so this Beverly Hills lipo-harvesting scheme was clearly a shady operation. But you must admit, being paid thousands of dollars to harvest fat from the vain and indulgent and then using it to power sport utility vehicles is a baroque level of evil genius. But this is exactly the kind of genius that heralds a novel fuel paradigm, a paradigm that is the perfect solution for the ills of the modern world.

The idea of harvesting animal fat for fuel is not new. There are companies that specialize in rendering beef fat, chicken fat, pig fat, even alligator fat for fuel. But using human fat for fuel seems totally out of the question, even though the number one health problem in the USA is obesity. The USA has a lot of overweight people; it is one of our primary natural resources. According to one Gallup poll the average American claims to be 17 pounds heavier than their optimal body weight.  At 8 pounds of fat to a gallon, that extra 17 pounds equals two gallons of high-grade biodiesel fuel sloshing around under the skin wherever they go. People who are eighty pounds overweight are carrying ten gallons of fuel. If an average diesel-burning car can get 40 miles per gallon, then someone who is moderately overweight is hoarding 75 miles of fuel energy in their body, and is probably very self conscious about the way their clothes fit because of it.

Human fat is a sustainable resource, and it is a resource that can be harvested. Human fat is easy to grow. It is actually fun to grow. Humans love to eat food that’s high in carbohydrates. It produces great pleasure and turns into fat with almost no effort at all. Given the opportunity, humans will gladly over-eat and produce excess fat. They do this naturally regardless of race, religion, or political ideology. If we assume the average American is 17 pounds over their ideal weight, at a population of 300 million; that means there is 5.1 billion pounds of fuel stored in our fat, which is 637 million gallons of fuel. This is roughly the amount of gasoline that Americans burn in 2 days, which is slightly less than one percent of our annual fuel consumption. To make a market comparison we can look at ethanol, which was just one percent of the US fuel market in 2000 but has grown to almost ten percent today. If all the extra body fat were harvested today, Americans would have to grow it back at an average of three pounds per week to make it a sustainable resource. Do you think you can do it America? Can you gain three pounds a week for your country? Go ahead, have another doughnut.

The economics of lipo-harvesting

Lipo-harvesting may seem like a radical concept, but it is entirely realistic. In 2003 approximately 320,000 people had liposuction, comprising .1% percent of the population and four percent of all cosmetic procedures performed. If we assume these numbers are constant, and that 2-8 pounds of fat is removed in each procedure, that is 10 to 40 thousand gallons of fuel tossed into the biohazard bin annually. But liposuction numbers have increased since 2003, and as the procedure becomes cheaper and more common these numbers will continue to increase. And these are statistics from people who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the procedure. How would these numbers increase if every overweight person had access to low cost liposuction clinics that harvested extra body fat every six months? What if the lipo-harvesting procedure could be automated with laser body scanning and robotic removal of only the outer layers of fat, which are easiest to reproduce? There would be a biomedical technology race to see who could create the least invasive fat harvesting system, like a tanning bed with an array of microtubules that probed a few centimeters under the skin and systematically drained out layers of fat, decreasing the trauma to skin tissue and lowering risk of infection. If such a device was created, low cost automated liposuction could be covered by Medicare as a treatment for common obesity. Lipo-harvesting clinics may even by subsidized by the government as a form of alternative fuel production.

According to Griffin Industries, which renders livestock fat for fuel, the U.S. Federal Government already recognizes animal fat as an alternative fuel. Fat is eligible for a $.50 per gallon incentive payment through the IRS, and similar incentives could be made for lipo-harvesting. And if harvesting excess fat made patients healthier, insurance companies would be able to lower premiums for policyholders that received routine liposuction treatments once they reached unhealthy levels of obesity. The pharmaceutical industry could also turn a huge profit by having the government cover the costs of antibiotics and painkillers for all lipo-harvesting procedures, not to mention all the biotech cash generated by producing new lipo-harvesting technology. Once the lipo-harvesting system was in place people would have an incentive to gain a little extra weight each week, which would also be a boon to the snack-food economy. People could eat all the junk food they wanted knowing it would be turned into valuable fat and resold as fuel. And when lipo-fuel stations were on every street corner and every freeway off-ramp, car exhaust will smell like bacon, which is a plus or a minus depending on your fondness for bacon.

When times are tough you need to squeeze growth out of every resource at your disposal, and excess body fat is an untapped resource. Lipo-harvesting may be disgusting, I agree. But when the average American looks in the mirror and realizes they are fat, they want that body fat gone today with no effort and no pain. With the option to donate that fat to a lipo-diesel collective, they could feel good about losing the weight and becoming a hero of the new economy. Donating fat would make people feel good about the environment and feel good about themselves. And if their insurance covered it, and they could get a better insurance premium or tax deduction for doing it, do you think they would do it? Of course they would. In this new fuel paradigm we would be forced to reconsider how we would think of people who are skilled at gaining extra weight. Newt Gingrich would be worth at least five hundred miles in lipo-fuel, he could drive his campaign bus from New York to Washington DC with all that fat. With a small car you might be able to get a thousand miles out of Michael Moore. And poor Oprah, gaining and losing all that weight with fad diets — that fat could have gone towards fueling our economy and watching her heroic transformation would make great reality TV. This is an idea whose time has come. It’s up to you America, put down the salad and order a pizza, and let’s put all that unused fat to work for a better tomorrow.