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Published on September 30th, 2009 | by Tina Casey

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Seven Weeds That Could Power Your Car

Jatropha could be cultivated as a biofuel crop.

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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.

Turn through the next seven pages for a closer look at some of the bigger players on the weed biofuel horizon…


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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Mike in Brooklyn
  • Mike in Brooklyn
  • Mike in Brooklyn
  • Mike in Brooklyn
  • Tina Casey

    Hi Mike in Brooklyn, seriously I was very sad to leave out cattails (had to make some cuts somewhere), but see my earlier post “Cattail Army Deployed to Fight Water Pollution,” http://cleantechnica.com/2009/05/16/cattail-army-deployed-to-fight-water-pollution/

    T.

    PS say hi to South First Street for me.

  • Stephen Klaber

    Fuel from weeds is where its at – it’s really the only way to control them. Undemanding and painfully renewable, the weeds need clearing worldwide. Aquatic weeds, like the above-mentioned cattails(hooray) and water hyacinth, are the most productive, but almost every plant we have a problem with should be viewed as fuel to be harvested. I doubt that anyone should try poison ivy. There are so many places where the weeds need harvesting, and clearing them helps in so many ways. Charge!

  • Stephen Klaber

    Fuel from weeds is where its at – it’s really the only way to control them. Undemanding and painfully renewable, the weeds need clearing worldwide. Aquatic weeds, like the above-mentioned cattails(hooray) and water hyacinth, are the most productive, but almost every plant we have a problem with should be viewed as fuel to be harvested. I doubt that anyone should try poison ivy. There are so many places where the weeds need harvesting, and clearing them helps in so many ways. Charge!

  • norman

    if it’s the cattails I’m thinking about they are edible.

    guess who will be munching when the food crisis hits :P

    what needs to be used is sage globe, round up won’t kill’m.

  • norman

    if it’s the cattails I’m thinking about they are edible.

    guess who will be munching when the food crisis hits :P

    what needs to be used is sage globe, round up won’t kill’m.

  • norman

    if it’s the cattails I’m thinking about they are edible.

    guess who will be munching when the food crisis hits :P

    what needs to be used is sage globe, round up won’t kill’m.

  • http://www.northquabbinenergy.org Brian_N

    Everytime I do the math comparing biofuels to electric cars I get more skeptical about the long term potential for large scale use of biofuels. Here’s my rough miles/acre for both.

    If an acre annually produces 15 tons of vegetation with say 7,000 btu (~2kWh) per lb we get 210 million btu (~60MWh) a year. If a process to turn that into a liquid fuel is 50% eff we end up with 105 million btu or 30MWh stored in some 750 gals of biodiesl. A good 60mpg car would do about 45,000 miles per acre.

    If the ave solar insolation for an ave U.S. site is 5kWh/day is converted with 25% eff solar thermal generator with a 10% land footprint, it would generate 5kWh * 365 * 4047 * 10% * 25% equals 184.6MWh/yr. If grid and battery losses total 50% ? we’d have about 90MWh for battery charges.

    If a Nissan Leaf really can go 100miles on a 24kWh charge, then it would do 375,000 miles per acre.

    Its gets 50-100% better if the solar thermal is located in the S.W.

  • http://www.northquabbinenergy.org Brian_N

    Everytime I do the math comparing biofuels to electric cars I get more skeptical about the long term potential for large scale use of biofuels. Here’s my rough miles/acre for both.

    If an acre annually produces 15 tons of vegetation with say 7,000 btu (~2kWh) per lb we get 210 million btu (~60MWh) a year. If a process to turn that into a liquid fuel is 50% eff we end up with 105 million btu or 30MWh stored in some 750 gals of biodiesl. A good 60mpg car would do about 45,000 miles per acre.

    If the ave solar insolation for an ave U.S. site is 5kWh/day is converted with 25% eff solar thermal generator with a 10% land footprint, it would generate 5kWh * 365 * 4047 * 10% * 25% equals 184.6MWh/yr. If grid and battery losses total 50% ? we’d have about 90MWh for battery charges.

    If a Nissan Leaf really can go 100miles on a 24kWh charge, then it would do 375,000 miles per acre.

    Its gets 50-100% better if the solar thermal is located in the S.W.

  • http://www.northquabbinenergy.org Brian_N

    Everytime I do the math comparing biofuels to electric cars I get more skeptical about the long term potential for large scale use of biofuels. Here’s my rough miles/acre for both.

    If an acre annually produces 15 tons of vegetation with say 7,000 btu (~2kWh) per lb we get 210 million btu (~60MWh) a year. If a process to turn that into a liquid fuel is 50% eff we end up with 105 million btu or 30MWh stored in some 750 gals of biodiesl. A good 60mpg car would do about 45,000 miles per acre.

    If the ave solar insolation for an ave U.S. site is 5kWh/day is converted with 25% eff solar thermal generator with a 10% land footprint, it would generate 5kWh * 365 * 4047 * 10% * 25% equals 184.6MWh/yr. If grid and battery losses total 50% ? we’d have about 90MWh for battery charges.

    If a Nissan Leaf really can go 100miles on a 24kWh charge, then it would do 375,000 miles per acre.

    Its gets 50-100% better if the solar thermal is located in the S.W.

  • Allen in Atlanta

    Great article and I am sure there are many more “weeds” that could be included. My opinion – the most important things now are:

    1. Can the existing corn-ethanol plants be converted cheaply and easily to process “weeds”? Since they are supported by the corn lobby and DOE this will be critical.

    2. What would be involved in starting a weed-fuel plant? Small scale and large scale?

    3. There are many similar ideas for using forces of nature to solve our “problems” – how do we get them all together?

  • Allen in Atlanta

    Great article and I am sure there are many more “weeds” that could be included. My opinion – the most important things now are:

    1. Can the existing corn-ethanol plants be converted cheaply and easily to process “weeds”? Since they are supported by the corn lobby and DOE this will be critical.

    2. What would be involved in starting a weed-fuel plant? Small scale and large scale?

    3. There are many similar ideas for using forces of nature to solve our “problems” – how do we get them all together?

  • Allen in Atlanta

    Great article and I am sure there are many more “weeds” that could be included. My opinion – the most important things now are:

    1. Can the existing corn-ethanol plants be converted cheaply and easily to process “weeds”? Since they are supported by the corn lobby and DOE this will be critical.

    2. What would be involved in starting a weed-fuel plant? Small scale and large scale?

    3. There are many similar ideas for using forces of nature to solve our “problems” – how do we get them all together?

  • Allen in Atlanta

    Great article and I am sure there are many more “weeds” that could be included. My opinion – the most important things now are:

    1. Can the existing corn-ethanol plants be converted cheaply and easily to process “weeds”? Since they are supported by the corn lobby and DOE this will be critical.

    2. What would be involved in starting a weed-fuel plant? Small scale and large scale?

    3. There are many similar ideas for using forces of nature to solve our “problems” – how do we get them all together?

  • aphoric

    What about hemp??? This seems like a huge oversight, and you could have used some stupid puns.

  • aphoric

    What about hemp??? This seems like a huge oversight, and you could have used some stupid puns.

  • aphoric

    What about hemp??? This seems like a huge oversight, and you could have used some stupid puns.

  • Marc

    I wish THEY would harvest all of the Goat-Head weeds whos thorns are giving me flat tires on my bike, but I hope THEY don’t start growing the stuff!

  • Marc

    I wish THEY would harvest all of the Goat-Head weeds whos thorns are giving me flat tires on my bike, but I hope THEY don’t start growing the stuff!

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