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Researchers Make Biofuel From Roadside Weed


nevadaresearUS researchers developed a technology, which converts roadside weed into usable biofuel, eliminating the competition for land or food resources.

Biofuels have not always been in the news for all the right green reasons, and that is often attributed to the competition with agricultural land and food resources. This is also why many research teams and technology developers have focused on finding plants that can be turned into fuel, but grow on unusable lands, are not suitable for human or cattle consumption, and do not require extensive irrigation.

One such development, ticking all the above boxes, comes from a team at University of Nevada (UNR). Funded by the US Department of Energy, the study explores the possibilities of producing biofuel from the unpretentious, overgrowing gumweed, found along the roads of Nevada.

It all began when Glenn Miller, lead scientist, and an environmental sciences professor in UNR’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, was approached by the mining engineer Darrell Lamaire, back in the 1980s with secured funding. For the next 10 years, the two scientists grew gumweed in Lamaire’s lab, aiming to solve the issue of biofuels competing with food resources.

Since then, Miller and a team of researchers at UNR, have managed to successfully extract hydrocarbons from the plant oil, and produce biofuel. Currently, the feasibility and the viability of using the new liquid is under testing.

Using gumweed to make biofuel captured the interest of many scientists withing the UNR, purely because it addresses the issues of competition for resources. They are trying now to perfect the biomass conversion, by testing innovative means.

An interesting approach is taken by Hongfei Lin, a collaborator in UNR’s College of Engineering, who is testing the process of oxidation instead of addition of hydrogen to the biomass. According to Lin, gunweed can grow on as little as 10% of the thousands of square miles of land by roads across Nevada. The amount of biomass that is produced could give between 400 and 600 million gallons of biofuel per year.

Image (c) UNR

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