be the Future of Biofuel?
people pull stinkweed from their gardens, but researchers are
now planting acres of it in an experimental biofuel test.
Biodiesel, as the name implies, is a fuel derived from vegetable
oils or animal fats that can power diesel engines and be used
for heating. It also can be blended with petroleum diesel.
production has skyrocketed with the spike in fossil fuel prices,
from 25 million gallons in 2004 to 500 million gallons last year,
according to the National Biodiesel Board.
Biodiesel can be produced from animal fat, used cooking oil
and a host of plants, though most biodiesel in the United
comes from soybean oil. Soybeans, like corn, are a commodity
for both food and fuel. Prices for soybean oil have more
than doubled since 2005, giving the industry added incentive
other potential sources of fuel.
biodiesel researchers look for ways to increase soybean yields,
they also are looking at alternative fuel sources
winter canola to algae. A few promising candidates are
weeds, which are attractive to growers for the same reasons
exasperate suburban home owners: they sprout fast and
they are aggressive.
could potentially allow vegetable oil to be produced more cheaply
than from traditional oil crops, which would be particularly
attractive to biodiesel producers looking for a feedstock cheap
enough to allow them to compete with petroleum diesel and gasoline.
The Camelina Company began research efforts with camelina over
10 years ago. They are currently contracting with growers throughout
the U.S. and Canada to grow camelina for biodiesel production.
Farmers in warmer climates around the world are looking
at a plant called jatropha and in Oregon this summer,
sativa, sometimes called false flax.
Researchers at the Center for Agricultural Utilization
Research stumbled on pennycress a few years ago after
growing wild. They soon found it had potential biodiesel
little seeds are 36 percent oil, it's easy to harvest
and has potential for a high yield per acre.
Don't plan on powering your diesel car with weed
power just yet, though. Farmers would need to be
convinced it's a better bet than winter wheat. And, if we give
up our winter wheat, then how much are we really saving on
energy costs by importing wheat?
On the Net:
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research: http://www.ncaur.usda.gov
National Biodiesel Board: http://www.biodiesel.org