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Ethanol from kudzu...instead of corn? Why not ?!?

Discussion in 'General Industry Discussions' started by Marcos, Jul 7, 2008.

  1. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,720

    I saw this in a back log of local rags I was trying to catch up on over the weekend in the hammock.

    Some really cool stuff...!
    Could you imagine.... actual working "kudzu farms" :dizzy:... some time in the not-to-distant future, all throughout the southeastern U.S ?!?

    Invasive kudzu studied as source of ethanol


    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    WASHINGTON — It has caused the Southeast millions in property and crop damage, but a researcher in Canada and colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture say the invasive kudzu vine could be an important new source of bioethanol.

    Their findings come at a time when experts are rethinking whether corn is best suited for ethanol production as a biofuel alternative to gasoline. The rise in ethanol demand has prompted concerns over food supply shortages, which in turn have contributed to considerable spikes in food prices worldwide.

    The kudzu vine could ease the problem, said University of Toronto professor Rowan Sage, one of eight authors whose study was published recently in Biomass & Bioenergy.

    The plant is a fast-growing, woody vine that can grow up to 60 feet in one season. Its underground roots, around the diameter of an adult forearm, store plenty of starch essential for ethanol production. Kudzu exists mostly in the southeast but is native to China and Japan, where the starchy roots have long been used for cooking and thickening sauces.

    In the U.S., especially in the southeast where it grows rampantly, the plant is considered a nuisance.

    "You may have heard of it as 'the plant that ate the South,'" said Sage, who teaches botany and ecology. "It takes over fields, covers trees and houses and causes a lot of economic damage."

    Sage and his research team gathered samples of kudzu throughout the South, including in Statesboro, Ga. They found the plant stores the most carbohydrates in its roots; these carbohydrates can be converted into ethanol with yeast.

    And unlike corn, kudzu doesn't have high planting and maintenance costs.

    "The problem with corn is you've got to grow it, you've got to use a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to plant it and harvest it," Sage said. "Corn is not that big of a gain and some people say that without federal subsidies the corn ethanol market would probably fail."

    The study found that the amount of energy that can be extracted from kudzu is similar to that of corn. For instance, 900 to 2500 liters of ethanol can be converted per hectare of kudzu, compared to 2000 to 3000 liters per hectare of corn, Sage said.

    But can kudzu replace corn entirely?

    "Realistically, it will at best supplement the corn crop by a few percent per year, but this could be a significant boost to rural economies in the southern USA, and could help keep feedstock supplies up when corn stocks are low, as they will be this year," Sage said.

    Kudzu is among several crops and plants being experimented around the world as the price of petroleum escalates and governments try to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

    Brazil, the world's biggest exporter of ethanol, depends on sugar cane. Dulce Fernandes, associate director of Network for New Energy Choices, a New York City-based nonprofit environmental organization, said sugar cane grows quickly and is less resource intensive than corn. However, the United States does not have the right climate to grow it at Brazil's rate. In India, researchers are testing a shrub called Jatropha that is native in many parts of the country.

    Fernandes could not comment on kudzu but said a sustainable source of ethanol should be able to grow quickly without huge costs. Also, it should require little to no fertilizers or pesticides that could harm the environment.

    "The plant can have positive characteristics that might be sustainable, but we need to consider the way it is planted," said Fernandes.

    Ken Smith, chief executive officer of a Massachusetts-based renewable energy development company, said the fact that kudzu is not native could be an issue. Native plants have natural predators and can for the most part maintain themselves without interrupting the ecosystem.

    "If we're looking at long-term solutions, we need to look at plants that are native," said Smith of Smith Energy Inc.

    Sage said kudzu must undergo further study. It is uncertain whether the plant is economically feasible to harvest. No techniques exist and it remains to be seen whether new farm equipment must be created in order to pull the plant's roots out of the ground. Also, while there is plenty of kudzu in the southeast, an increase in demand could be problematic as current regulations do not allow cultivation of the noxious weed.
  2. dave k

    dave k LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,177

    JOGA has TONS of it, grows 3 feet overnight, Kudzu is taking over the world!
  3. GravelyNut

    GravelyNut LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,594

    A better way of wording it would be " the right environmentalist climate". Florida has the environment but has a problem with environmentalist who want the waters coming off of the sugar cane farms to be cleaner than the natural rainfall levels of phosphorus. As a result, the US's largest sugar producer may be out of business in 6 years or so. Up to 187,000 acres of cane land could be lost in that time period.
  4. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,720

    I've seen it for years now...while driving through S. Carolina and Georgia along the highways, just smothering all the trees, and even buildings, everything in it's path !!

    To me...this seems like this could be a real smart idea.

    This beast is already here in the United States...and WELL entrenched.
    Like the zebra mussel, asian bush honeysuckle, the emerald ash borer, and russian olive, there's nothing, next to a direct act of God, that's going to make all the KUDZU disappear from the South east, at this late date !

    So why not make the best, of an already bad situation ?

    We've just got to figure out how to grow these vines on 'contained' kudzu farms, where the rapidly-growing plants can have free-rein, without free-rein into adjacent, uninfected areas.
    I'm certain that there would have to be a certain amount of 'buffer zone' around these farms...where employees would control vegetation coming in and / or out of the fences, if you know what I mean.

    Like the article says...there's no maintenance costs like fertilization, irrigation, herbicide, etc with kudzu.
    (If it grows like a weed, it's treated like a weed, my 1st boss used to say ! :rolleyes:)
    I think the key would be to find the best planting method for the vine(s), that would allow for the easiest ultimate access for the future harvest of the root(s), with as little "hacking through the jungle" :laugh: as possible.

    Certainly...some type of linear planting method makes sense to me.
  5. RonB

    RonB LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 427

    hydroponics - easy to get the root and contained.

    My father in law recalls when a guy first introduced it to this area from Japan. It was THE thing to prevent erosion, etc. He didn't go for the idea for his land. Good thing.
  6. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,720

    And to think...I once planted bunches of autumn olive bushes for a landscaper I worked for out of high school...only about 25 years ago !!



    What a mistake that was !!!
  7. cgaengineer

    cgaengineer LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 15,778

    For those who don't know what kudzu is take a look at following link http://www.jjanthony.com/kudzu/

    Also an interesting story about it...

    Gardening Tips from Down South

    How to Grow Kudzu

    Choosing a Plot: Kudzu can be grown almost anywhere, so site selection is not the problem it is with some other finicky plants like strawberries. Although kudzu will grow quite well on cement, for best result you should select an area having at least some dirt. To avoid possible lawsuits, it is advisable to plant well away from your neighbors house, unless, of course, you don't get along well with your neighbor anyway.

    Preparing the Soil: Go out and stomp on the soil for a while just to get its attention and to prepare it for kudzu.

    Deciding When to Plant: Kudzu should always be planted at night. If kudzu is planted during daylight hours, angry neighbors might see you and begin throwing rocks at you.

    Selecting the Proper Fertilizer: The best fertilizer I have discovered for kudzu is 40 weight non detergent motor oil. Kudzu actually doesn't need anything to help it grow, but the motor oil helps to prevent scraping the underside of the tender leaves when the kudzu starts its rapid growth. It also cuts down on the friction and lessens the danger of fire when the kudzu really starts to move. Change oil once every thousand feet or every two weeks which ever comes first.

    Mulching the Plants: Contrary to what may be told by the Extension Service, kudzu can profit from a good mulch. I have found that a heavy mulch for the young plants produces a hardier crop. For best results, as soon as the young shoots begin to appear, cover kudzu with concrete blocks. Although this causes a temporary setback, your kudzu will accept this mulch as a challenge and will reward you with redoubled determination in the long run.

    Organic or Chemical Gardening: Kudzu is ideal for either the organic gardener or for those who prefer to use chemicals to ward off garden pests. Kudzu is oblivious to both chemicals and pests. Therefore, you can grow organically and let the pests get out of the way of the kudzu as best they can, or you can spray any commercial poison directly on your crop. Your decision depends on how much you enjoy killing bugs. The kudzu will not mind either way.

    Crop Rotation: Many gardeners are understandably concerned that growing the same crop year after year will deplete the soil. If you desire to change from kudzu to some other plant next year, now is the time to begin preparations. Right now, before the growing season has reached its peak, you should list your house and lot with a reputable real estate agent and begin making plans to move elsewhere. Your chances of selling will be better now than they will be later in the year, when it may be difficult for a prospective buyer to realize that underneath those lush green vines stands an adorable three bedroom house.

    Originally written by: Tifton B Merritt

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