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Stinkweed: Future Biofuel Souce?

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Could Stinkweed be the Future of Biofuel?

Most 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. Biodiesel 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 States comes from soybean oil. Soybeans, like corn, are a commodity in demand for both food and fuel. Prices for soybean oil have more than doubled since 2005, giving the industry added incentive to experiment with other potential sources of fuel.

As biodiesel researchers look for ways to increase soybean yields, they also are looking at alternative fuel sources ranging from winter canola to algae. A few promising candidates are weeds, which are attractive to growers for the same reasons they exasperate suburban home owners: they sprout fast and they are aggressive.

Stinkweed 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, they are planting camelina sativa, sometimes called false flax.
Researchers at the Center for Agricultural Utilization Research stumbled on pennycress a few years ago after noticing it growing wild. They soon found it had potential biodiesel benefits: the 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:
National Biodiesel Board:

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