Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kudzu Potential Biofuel


Ever since I learned about this ridiculously quickly growing plant and its gazillion uses, I wondered why it wasn't getting utilized as a renewable resource for a whole range of products. It seems that a lot of people also wondered about that, enough to look into using it as biofuel.

Researchers at the University of Toronto and the US Department of Agriculture are taking a close look at kudzu, a native plant of Asia that can grow more than 6.5 feet a week and is nearly impossible to get rid of. The team examined the amount of carbohydrate in the plant - the part that gets turned into ethanol - at different times of year in different parts of the plant. They found the root carries over 2/3 of the carbs by weight, and they estimate kudzu could produce 2.2 to 5.3 tons of carbs per acre. This translates to 270 gallons of ethanol per acre, comparable to the ethanol yield of corn - which isn't saying much considering corn is on the low end of the energy yield spectrum.

Now the question the team is asking is whether or not it is worth the effort of digging up the roots that can grow more than six feet deep.

On the pro side, kudzu needs nothing to grow - no planting, no fertilizer, no irrigation. That's obvious considering its pseudonym is "the plant that ate the South." But on the con side, what amount of energy will go into getting at the tough-to-reach hillsides where much of the kudzu grows, and what will harvesting the plant's roots do to the ecosystem, especially when folks are digging up hillsides?

Though we can use kudzu as biofuel, there seems to be little telling us we should. Nonetheless, researchers are weighing the scales and looking at its potential.

Via Discovery News; Photo by Fuzzy Gerdes

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