Florida, the largest citrus producing state in the United States, each year creates about eight million tons of orange peel waste that mostly goes to cattle feed but researchers at a Fort Lauderdale-based company want to convert some of the peels into methanol, which can be used as an energy source, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The news agency said a company called Ener1 Inc. is working on a $US1.1 million project to convert the hydrogen-rich gas released from citrus peels for use in fuel cells at a model motorway service area.

The nonprofit Florida Hydrogen Initiative Inc. has given Ener1 a $550,000 grant to help complete the project by next year, AP added.

According to the report, the goal is to create "a road show" for millions of motorists to demonstrate the potential of hydrogen energy, not to mention get rid of citrus peel waste.

AP said most of Florida's oranges are processed into juice and, eventually, Ener1 researchers hope to try using other forms of waste, such as rubbish from Orlando's theme parks, to create the methanol.

"We need something besides gasoline and this is one way to get there," Jim Griffiths, the 90-year-old managing director at Citrus Grower Associates Inc., told the Associated Press, adding: "If orange waste can be helpful, that's great."

AP noted that central Florida has been the location of several such hydrogen-power projects. In February, state governor Jeb Bush and Ford chairman and CEO Bill Ford helped introduce the state's first hydrogen fuelling station for buses, which will will be used to ferry rental car customers at Orlando International Airport and tourists at the NASA space visitor centre.

Last May, according to the Associated Press, Ford and BP America selected Florida as one of three sites nationwide to demonstrate hydrogen fuel cell cars.

The report said that, so far, Ener1 researchers have created one-kilowatt and 150-watt fuel cell prototypes and hope to have a 10-kilowatt fuel cell completed over the next 18 months for the motorway service centre.

If all goes according to plan, five fuel cells, each the size of three car batteries, will be used at the as-yet unbuilt rest stop, AP added.

The report said the methanol will be extracted from the orange peels through a distillation process and stored in an offsite tank, and the fuel cells will be re-supplied with methanol every two or three days.