Move over, corn: there’s a new biofuel in town. A tiny flowering plant called duckweed, often seen in shallow ponds, produces significantly more starch per acre than corn according to researchers North Carolina State University. The plant thrives on animal waste, quickly transforming it into a leafy starch that can be turned into ethanol.
Since animal poop from factory farms is largely responsible algae blooms that create coastal dead zones, the NC State discovery could have ramifications far beyond our gas tanks.
Small scale tests have proven that the same technology used to convert corn into ethanol can also turn duckweed starch to ethanol. Next up: testing on a large scale and doing an economic analysis of the process. Ultimately, the economics will decide if duckweed can compete with other sources of ethanol.
Ariel Schwartz was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a contributor at Fast Company, Inhabitat, Triple Pundit, SF Weekly, and NBC Bay Area Online. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.