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Duckweed is Cheaper Raw Material for Biofuel

Wed, 03/06/2013 - 11:31am
ACS

Duckweed, the quick-growing plant covering this pond, ranks as an ideal raw material for producing biofuels that could help ease reliance on petroleum and natural gas in the 21st century. Image: ACSThe search for a less-expensive, sustainable source of biomass, or plant material, for producing gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, has led scientists to duckweed, that fast-growing floating plant that turns ponds and lakes green. That’s the topic of a report in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Christodoulos Floudas, Xin Xiao and colleagues explain that duckweed, an aquatic plant that floats on or near the surface of still or slow-moving freshwater, is ideal as a raw material for biofuel production. It grows fast, thrives in wastewater that has no other use, does not impact the food supply and can be harvested more easily than algae and other aquatic plants. However, few studies have been done on the use of duckweed as a raw material for biofuel production.

They describe four scenarios for duckweed refineries that use proven existing technology to produce gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Those technologies include conversion of biomass to a gas; conversion of the gas to methanol, or wood alcohol; and conversion of methanol to gasoline and other fuels. The results show that small-scale duckweed refineries could produce cost-competitive fuel when the price of oil reaches $100 per barrel. Oil would have to cost only about $72 per barrel for larger duckweed refiners to be cost-competitive.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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