Tina Casey, September 30th, 2009, Gas2.org

Jatropha could be cultivated as a biofuel crop.

The jury is still out on jatropha, which achieved biofuel superstar status a couple of years ago only to see its star tarnished by charges of land grabbing, deforestation, and even biopiracy, including the replacement of food cropland for jatropha cultivation. Lesson learned: whether it’s a food or nonfood crop, biofuel cultivation has to be balanced with regional and global nutrition.

Image: prashantby on flickr.com.

With the attention on first generation corn ethanol fading, the next big thing on the sustainable fuel horizon is nonfood biofuel crops. Within that category, inedible weeds are taking a front-row seat due to their relatively low demands on water, pesticides, and herbicides, and their reduced need for tilling and other mechanized soil prep. Some weeds with biofuel potential can also thrive on contaminated soils, absorbing and cleaning pollutants in a process called phytoremediation.

One big caveat on weed biofuel is the risk of letting invasive species run wild off cultivated fields and overwhelming native species, but if that concern can be allayed through proper management, you may soon find these deceptively delicate looking weeds pulling enough power to beat out the tiger for a place in your tank.

Photographer Karen Phillips describes Pennycress as a “cool little Brassica” that can grow in nickel-contaminated soil that would kill most plants. A pennycress biofuel facility is in the works for Peoria, Illinois, and upstate New Yorkers are also looking into the weed, more colorfully known by the locals as “stinkweed.”

Image: karenphillips on flickr.com.

2. Amaranthus

Amaranthus is a weed that could be grown as a biofuel crop.

Also known as pigweed, Amaranthus is a highly competitive, classified noxious weed that proves how good bad can be. The pesky little devil has garnered praises from researchers at the University of New Mexico for its ideal traits as a biofuel crop including drought tolerance, high rate of photosynthesis, and resistance to disease and pests.

Image: Just chaos on flickr.com.

3. Kudzu

Kudzu is a week that could become a biofuel crop.

Biofuel could be the redemption song for kudzu, the voracious creeper known as “the plant that ate the south.”Aside from absorbing trees and bushes into an eerie green moonscape, kudzu boasts a hi-carb content that could be converted to ethanol using a yeast-based process. To offset the expense of harvesting kudzu from the steep hillsides that it favors, researchers point out that there are no costs for fertilizing, irrigating, or planting the invader, which was imported to the U.S. from Asia in the 1870’s.

Image: Alabama kudzu by Alarob on flickr.com.

4. Arundo donax (giant cane)

Arundo donax, or giant cane, is a weed that could be cultivated for biofuel.

Able to grow almost three inches per day in the summer, giant cane (Arundo donax) could be the superhero of the biofuel world, producing multiple harvests every year on poor soil. Left unmanaged, though, it turns to the dark side. At least six states from California to Maryland have reported it as an invasive species.

Image: Shizahao on wikimedia.org (creative commons license).

5. Castor

Castor, considered a weed in Australia, could be grown as a biofuel crop.

The lovely castor plant is a noxious weed in Australia, introduced in 1803 and firmly establishing itself as a pest in every state except Tasmania. Meanwhile over in Israel, the company Kaiima Bio-Agritech believes that it has found a way to manipulate the chromosomes of biofuel crops to double their yield, with castor showing particular promise - at least in countries where it can be cultivated without overwhelming native species.

7. Chinese Tallow

Chinese tallow could be cultivated as a biofuel crop.

We have none other than Benjamin Franklin to thank for Chinese Tallow, also known as Florida Aspen or more colorfully as the Gray Popcorn tree. It grows profusely in ditches and dikes from South Carolina through the entire Gulf Coast. Though trees aren’t usually thought of as weeds, the Chinese Tallow is in a class by itself: considered a noxious invader in the U.S., it joins algae and palm oil among the top three vegetable oil crops.

Image and background information: BaylorBear78 on flickr.com.

Image: pizzodisevo on flickr.com.

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I really like the ability of some of these plants to remediate the soil and air pollution that already exists. Looks like power the world and clean it up at the same time. Nice dream anyway.

Tags: bio-fuels, weeds

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Are we talking here about intentionally spreading this weed? Ok, yeah, I did start it. Yes Alabama has an abundance of Kudzu. Roanoke has some unused rail lines that are now swallowed whole by this weed.
Hi folks, I remember a study where they grew Hemp in the middle of a freeway and as it grew it recycled the pollutants from the exhaust! If we could just get out of mother natures way...or show Big Oil how to profit from this so they'd get out of our way.

Thanks for the post Dan- great stuff. Kindest Regards, Kurt
Chance, there are two more that need to be added to the list: Johnson Grass and annual sunflowers. The mix of Johnson Grass, Amaranthus (carelessweed), and annual sunflowers that grow up on fallowed cropland is very prolific as a cellulose ethanol source. And I am glad that soeone else is finally picking up on the need to initiate a food/fuel/fallow cropping cycle to maintain the balance between food and energy and protect the health of the land.
Hi George, Always glad to see you joining in. I kinda thought you'd find this interesting. Can you write a paragraph about each of these and post a photo of them?

Is Hemp good for high blood pressure?

(Other than to those that oppose the involvement into society?)
All of the above. How many truck loads to brew 1,000 gallons?

I suggest: Micro Distillerys. They work for Beer, why not Bio Diesel from waste cooking oil? And Ethanol from these, and any other veggie source? Ck-Out:
Taste of St Louis
They run all their Generators on recycled waste cooking oil; bio diesel.

This could be accomplished on a Metro basis. Build a Petro Alage Farm adjacent to the Distillery and vent the CO2 + heat up through the growing P. A. Or, do as Archer Danials Midland used to do - vent to a series of adjoined Green Houses.

If worse gets to worst, the President could proclaim that all Ethanol, currently distilled for human consumption, be instead converted to: Wood Alakyhaul... and make E-25 out of it... Sure we'd have plenty of fuel...
One prospect that should be examined is to use harvest fruits or vegetables from plants, then use the remaining part of the plant as a fuel source. I suspect that most plants could be used with the proper approach, perhaps including solar drying like we do for hay after it is cut.
To the contary...

Farmers, back in the 20's had large stills capable of making Ethanol, mostly from corn, to power their tractors. Heat. And run a Model T which had a wire toggle on the carb to switch back to gasoline, which was just becomming available. And, yes, I read that those opposed to Ethanol as fuel argued then, as now that using corn to make fuel was taking food out of some1's mouth.... Wonder how they figured the fields were gonna get plowed w/o fuel???

After passage of the Volstead Act, Feds like Elliott Ness ramsacked through the Farms, calling these ethanol stills, Moonshine Stills. All the evidence they needed was 1 Lil Brown Jug fulla Moonshine, with a cob cork, and they torched the Stills. When I moved to TN 20 years ago, I saw some of the burnt out hulks of a few Stills, still rusting away...

I suspect that Carry Nations, had an adjenda, but so did Oil Companys whom profited overwhelmingly when Farmers were forced to go into town, and truck gasoline back to the Farms. Eventually, many of them got their own gasoline storage Tanks, and Pumps, and Stilling Fuel became a lost Art.

Americans have been lied to, and manipulated by Our Government, and big business through out Our History. The greatest offenders, probably the biggest Cons of all time were the: Bush Adminstration, and the Fools whom supported him... Unless Your 1 of the Cronies whom profited via their crimes.

If there is Right, and Wrong, as a moral quality, than WE must ferrit it out!

As I'm wondering if: The Natural Gas Act, w/o protection of Aquifers; The Frac Act, is morally correct?
Are, Our we being mislead?
Do you think a greenhouse condominium powered by solar would be useful in growing Jathropa thereby reducing the land consumption.
Hi Patrick, I'm not an expert nor a solid proponent but I am for anything....ANYTHING... that will get us off foreign oil as long as it does not make us sick or impoverish us. Seems like small processing systems would need to be developed that could be installed for communities that would then be visited by trucks that would transport the partially processed output to the final plant for final purification to fuel. It doesn't sound feasible... as would huge fields that could harvested as do wheat or corn.
Hi Allen: It is hard to produce any profit the first year or two. The immediately available stills will be suitable for some kinds of bio mass, but not for others. Fractional distillation produces a dozen or more relatively pure chemicals, some of which make good fuels. Some that have little present market value can be converted to something saleable with catalysts and other chemical treatment. Without subsidies, most would be produced at a loss. Few persons know how to do any of this well and typically they want to be paid generously for what they know. Worse there are many pretenders, who will waste your money and delay success of your project. You can be like Thomas Edison, who once said, "I now know 1000 things that won't make a good light bulb, so I am making progress." Neil
I have 6 acres of open field. I have thought of solar panels. No money. I would like to follow up on this possible ave.
Maybe I do not have enough land to help. I say let's get goin!!!!!
Thanks for the articles and the quality discussion.
Best; Tom


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