The jury is still out on the commercial viability of kudzu as a biofuel crop, but scientists at the University of Virginia have come up with a compelling reason to get the invasive, fast-growing vine under control but quick. The team has found evidence that kudzu is a major contributor to surface ozone pollution.
The kudzu-induced increase in ozone is so powerful that it “completely overcomes the reduction in ozone realized from automobile pollution control legislation,” reports a member of the research team. Dang!
Kudzu and Ozone
Working at three sites in Georgia, the research team found that kudzu, an invasive vine from Asia that is basically eating the southeastern U.S. alive, produces isoprene and nitric oxide. When these chemicals hit nitrogen in the air they form ozone, which in addition to causing asthma and other human health problems can also inhibit food crop production. Working with another team from Harvard University, the researchers used atmospheric chemistry computer modeling to predict the effects of surface ozone pollution created by kudzu over fifty years.
Kudzu and Biofuel
Meanwhile, over at the University of Toronto, researchers working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have determined that kudzu has some potential as a biofuel crop. The idea isn’t too far fetched: the U.S. Navy and Air Force are testing jet biofuel made from weedlike camelina, and there are a variety of other weeds that could produce biofuel. At least one inventive Tennessean is already refining kudzu biofuel under the name Kudzunol. If it could be properly controlled (ha!), kudzu could also have potential as a bioremediation crop, for use in reclaiming marginal soil through its symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Image: Kudzu by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.