‘Miracle’ Crop Could Invade Like Kudzu
By John Murawski (News and Observer/Bradenton.com/Bradenton Herald) It’s billed as a champion energy crop that yields three times as much ethanol per acre as corn, a fast-growing field grass that’s ideal for making clean auto fuel without displacing scarce crop land. The N.C. Biofuels Center has been pushing for more than a year to grow the arundo plant on a mass scale, touting it as a new cash crop and the prime energy source for a proposed $170 million biofuel refinery in eastern North Carolina.
…”Arundo has got a lot of us scared,” said David Crouse, an N.C. State University soil scientist. “We have that concern that it could be kudzulike.”
Even some board members of the Biofuels Center are trying to stop the organization from spreading arundo on North Carolina’s soil. The Environmental Defense Fund, whose Southeast director, Jane Preyer, sits on the Biofuels Center’s board of directors , is among a half-dozen state and national organizations that has petitioned North Carolina officials to declare arundo a noxious weed and get it banned or restricted in the state.
…Still, arundo has a lot of powerful backers who say that the wild cane can be managed in North Carolina so that it doesn’t take over native habitats. The fast-growing plant’s chief asset is the massive volume of vegetation-and consequently ethanol fuel – it can produce in poor soil with minimal fuss and at minimal cost.
“It’s a miracle plant in that you can grow it on less land and you get higher mass,” said W. Steven Burke, CEO of the N.C. Biofuels Center in Oxford. “It’s the most promising in the terms of volume, of mass to be gained: up to 18 tons per acre. Wow.”
… The Chemtex project depends on a favorable ruling from the N.C. Department of Agriculture that arundo is not a noxious weed. A recommendation is expected by early next year.
But it also depends on a decision from the Environmental Protection Agency classifying arundo as an energy crop for making high-grade ethanol. The premium biofuel is expected to cost as much as $1 more per gallon than conventional ethanol, Harrod said. This class of premium-grade ethanol is currently not commercially available.
To calm fears, the N.C. Biofuels Center has issued safe growth management practices and has enlisted scientists at Ohio State University and Virginia Tech to vouch for the safety of arundo. They say the reedy grass is easy to control as long s it’s kept away from drainage ditches or waterways, noting that arundo is a common landscape ornamental plant sold by nurseries. READ MORE and MORE (UPI) and MORE (WRAL includes Video) and MORE (San Francisco Chronicle) and MORE (Huffington Post)