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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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Hi Tom: The main disadvantage of only 6 acres is thieves may steal your expensive PV = photovoltaic panels. If you can solve that problem, and have more cloud free hours than typical in Nevada, someone may be willing to put up the money to start construction. You can perhaps contribute sweat equity. Neil
How come Hemp is not listed here. Isn't that the best of all the plants?
Good question. I didn't make the list.
This issue is the most important issue facing us today. Getting off of foreign oil will reduce the deficit and put wealth back into our country in a short time and bring so much more wealth into this country when people are losing their homes and jobs. Not only will it save us economically it will help save us from Terrorism. Thailand has a Natural gas converter kit installed for less then $1,200 USD. If Brazil can do energy independent from Sugar Cane why can't we. This should be Obama's thing to get Americans working again and saving our great nation but few forums to say it on. Where are the specifics to the Boone plan. Maybe he should invest in a company that can convert cars to Natural gas and the government mandate all cares to be fitted and pay for it. It would cost the government no more then $3,000 per car. Or mandate GM to do that or no bail out. What a big mistake that was. Is GM making hybrids with Natural gas yet? It's a Trillion dollar investment now that will save us a trillion over the following three years and then save us a trillion each year after pouring that into the US economy. I guess Pickens has a political action committee working on the hill or he is wasting his time.

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