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Friday, June 27, 2008

Kudzu

The plant that ate the South.

Kudzu, the bane of many a Southerner, and a surrealistic natural topiary generator which, for this writer at least, brings a certain wild beauty to the landscape on a country drive, may hold new promise in terms of alternative energy, and may point to a new economic growth engine for the areas of the country in which the vine has gained a stranglehold.

Y'see, the carbohydrates in kudzu roots can produce as much ethanol per acre as corn, but without the undesirable side effect of driving food and feed prices sky high and enriching the likes of ADM. When you bring forthcoming cellulosic ethanol processing into the mix, the infuriatingly renewable resource of the kudzu vines and leaves can potentially produce scores more energy.

By way of Treehugger comes this story from Discovery News:
As concerns rise over corn ethanol creating competition between food and fuels, ethanol made from one of the country's most invasive plants -- kudzu -- could be part of the solution, according to Rowan Sage of the University of Toronto and colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The kudzu vine, also known as "the plant that ate the South," was brought from eastern Asia in 1876 and can grow more than 6.5 feet a week. Its starchy roots plunge deep into the soil, and just a fragment of the plant remaining in the ground is enough to allow it to come back next season...

...The researchers estimate that kudzu could produce 2.2 to 5.3 tons of carbohydrate per acre in much of the South, or about 270 gallons per acre of ethanol, which is comparable to the yield for corn of 210 to 320 gallons per acre. They recently published their findings in Biomass and Bioenergy.

Crucial to making the plan work would be figuring out whether kudzu could be economically harvested, especially the roots, which can be thick and grow more than six feet deep. To balance this expense, Sage said, the plant requires zero planting, fertilizer or irrigation costs....

...However, if existing corn ethanol manufacturing plants could be used to process kudzu, too, then the approach might be feasible, Forseth said.

Bob Tanner of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., proposed using kudzu for energy in the energy crisis of the 1970s, but he now suggests that the starch, which is used as a gelling product in food in Japan, carries a higher value as a food product.

He advocates using the starch for food and converting the cellulose -- the woody, fibrous carbohydrate that gives structure to the stems and leaves -- into ethanol once processes under development are commercially available.

The fibers also make fine textiles, Tanner said. "My suggestion is, be creative. Don't cuss at it. Use it creatively."
Seriously, the scourge of kudzu may actually represent a golden opportunity for Mississippi and other Southern states, and could provide the region with a unique chance for economic growth, given the ingenuity and support neccessary to bring such an effort to fruition.

4 comments: to “ Kudzu

  • John Leek
    June 27, 2008 2:42 PM  

    If we can find a way to use Kudzu other than to fill cows bellies we will be taking a useless weed and making it a moneymaker. You sir are correct.

  • Mitch
    June 27, 2008 2:52 PM  

    Indeed. And Obama is a huge proponent of providing cellulosic ethanol research and development the funding we'd need to get on the fast track.

    I've been pushing this idea for a while, and actually touched on the reasons why cellulosic ethanol production makes so much better sense than good sense elsewhere in the MS blogosphere.

    Just imagine if we could be making real money and doing a service to the planet by harvesting all that green.

  • Anonymous
    July 02, 2008 11:21 AM  

    What does anyone think of this kudzu prospect...using it as a 'green roof technololgy', i.e. planted in shallow soils, in containers placed along the roof ridges of southern area, residential homes? Low maintenance, drought-tolerant, shading...all of which could reduce attic temperatures, and fossil fuel usage to provide cooler indoor temps during scorching summer months. Give it a haircut with a weed-whacker as the the vines reach gutters.

    But...will the vines attach to roofing material as common ivy would, and risk destroying the home's roofing?

    Comments anyone???

    ThX

  • Mitch
    July 02, 2008 11:42 AM  

    Oh, I don't know. Kudzu can grow up to a foot per day, and has a long history of simply swallowing up the surroundings. I doubt you could manage the upkeep necessary to stop it from taking over. Not just destroying the roofing material, but swallowing it whole.

    Plus, kudzu roots are something fierce, and I'm not sure they'd cotton to shallow containers; probably reach out looking for deeper ground.

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