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There was an article emailed to me from this past weekend’s AJC titled “Invasive Kudzu Studied As Source Of Ethanol” (y’all know I love kudzu…). It’s about a researcher from Canada and some other people at the USDA looking at kudzu as a possible fuel source.

Here are some excerpts:

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.”

“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.

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.

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.

Well…I looked into this a little bit, and it sounds like the researchers in the AJC article need to talk to Agro*Gas Industries in Cleveland, Tennessee, because they’ve had the idea for a while now and are planning to be in production in 2009!

From an article I found about them:

“This is a version of 180-proof ethanol made from the kudzu plant,” explained Doug Mizell, co-founder of Agro*Gas Industries in Cleveland, Tennessee, as he points to a jar filled with clear liquid.

Mizell and company co-founder, Tom Monahan, have dubbed the kudzu-based-ethanol, “Kudzunol.”

Not only do they make it, the two believe the suffocating weed that has become an annoyance might just be a saving grace at the fuel pump.

“Everybody knows that you can make ethanol from corn and soy bean,” said Mizell. “What most people don’t know is that you can make ethanol from anything green.”

So, instead of fuel and feed, Agro*Gas is putting their energy into converting what is readily available and cheap.

“There’s 7.2 million acres of kudzu in the south that’s absolutely good to no one,” said Mizell. “It grows a foot a day, 60 feet a season and can be harvested twice a year and not even hurt the stand.”

Mizell says the ethanol process is simply “Moonshine 101” and has not changed in 500 years.

Agro*Gas plans to build a cellulosic plant to produce the Kudzonol and bio-diesel, Green D.

The ethanol producing plant would be small, regional, and reliant on local farmers.

“Farmers still can’t believe the fact that we would actually pay them for stuff they now throw away or turn under,” said Monahan. “It’s like, ‘I can’t believe it’s true until I see the money.’”

Agro*Gas plans to break ground on an ethanol producing plant in McMinn County or a surrounding county by end of the year and hopefully begin production in 2009.

The plant will be environmentally friendly and funded by private dollars.

Currently Monahan and Mizell are working with investors across the country as well as local farmers.

Which means…we’re all going to be rich! Well, not really. But still. How many Jed Clampetts do you know?

Come and listen to a story about a man named Av

A real city boy, Whole Foods kept his family fed

Then one day his yard was covered as could be

‘Cause up through the ground came a mile-long vine of green…

Kudzu that is. Emerald gold. Bama tea.

Okay, okay. That was pretty weak. But I couldn’t help myself! Because you know what? This is what our backyard looks like. Well, the area behind the backyard – our lot includes up to the top of the mountain, so this is the area that’s not cleared. And this tree is covered in ivy and honeysuckle and wisteria and kudzu. Mostly kudzu:

Av chopped off a few yards of kudzu to see if it would fill the Volvo up:

He’s ahead of his time.

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