Researchers in Nevada are finding a way to turn a roadside weed into a high performance military jet fuel. This article from the University of Nevada, Reno, says the school’s Glenn Miller is leading the effort in a project that refines roadside gumweed into biofuel.
“The plant grindelia squarosa, known as curly top gumweed, has extractable hydrocarbons with the potential use as a biodiesel or biomaterials crop,” Miller, a professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, said. “Gumweed is native in Nevada and grows on the side of freeways and, more importantly, is an arid land crop that requires less water than other substitutes like alfalfa. Alfalfa takes five feet of water to grow while gumweed uses no more than a foot of water.”
The collaborators on the project planted the gumweed at the University’s Valley Road Field Laboratory and the Main Station Field Laboratory using minimal water and fertilizer resources. After growing and harvesting the gumweed, it went through biomass processing where it was broken down to liquid that smells like tar.
The researchers say the crop and process can produce up to 122 gallons per acre on a biennial basis on the semi-arid lands of Nevada. The project received $500,000 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and has the potential to supply up to 20 percent of fuel demand for the military.
“It is estimated that if even 10 percent of sagebrush-covered lands in Nevada are used to grow gumweed for aviation biofuels, 400 to 600 million gallons per year of jet biofuels could be produced,” Hongfei Lin, a collaborator from the College of Engineering, said. “That’s definitely incredible. There’s lots of potential.”