In April 2008, U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich picked up a sandwich wrap in the Capitol Hill cafeteria and sat down to lunch. Kucinich’s meal soon took an unappetizing turn, however, after he chomped down on an olive pit hiding in his meal and split his tooth open.
Things went downhill from there. Kucinich’s tooth became infected and required extensive dental work, prompting the Ohio congressman to file a $150,000 lawsuit against the companies he felt were responsible for letting the offending olive pit slip into his wrap. He eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
So olive pits certainly don’t make much of a meal, but could they have other uses? After all, the world produces an astonishing amount of olives -- 21.2 million tons, or 19.3 million metric tons, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It would be a bummer for all those pits to just sit in a landfill.
Fortunately, people are constantly finding new and exciting uses for olive pits once considered trash. For instance, an enterprising doctoral student from the University of Granada showed that olive pits and other waste collected from the fruit's production can be used to eliminate toxic heavy metals from industrial waste. Another study from the University of Sciences and Technology Houari Boumediene showed that the pits could facilitate denitrification, a process frequently used as part of wastewater treatment. And perhaps most importantly, olive pits might join foods like corn and sugarcane as a renewable energy source.
Food-based fuel is already an important part of the world’s energy supply. In the United States in 2007, for instance, one-third of the country’s 92.9 million acres (375,952 square kilometers) of corn went to ethanol production, according to a 2011 article in the journal Nature. Brazil has become energy independent in large part because of the country’s ability to use sugarcane for car fuel. These crops have a problem though: When they serve as fuel, they can’t serve as food, too. Fortunately, scientists are developing biofuels made of inedible plant parts, and as congressman Kucinich would agree, olive pits are certainly inedible. But can they be used as biofuel? If you’re burning to know, read on.