Biofuels Scientists at the University of Virginia have linked kudzu to excess ozone formation

Published on May 25th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


Another Reason to Not Like Kudzu (Unless It's Good for Making Biofuel)

May 25th, 2010 by  

Scientists at the University of Virginia have linked kudzu to excess ozone formationThe 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, on

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Gustavo Vargas

    Tina, would you care to let me know the source or scientific reference of the Georgia’s research team? Although I found some of your information misleading, I’m not pretending to advocate for kudzu but for properly informing people; I am a plant physiologist and I do not know of plants directly producing nitric oxides in big amounts (which are almost produced exclusively during human-made fuels’ combustion), except for those plants associated to nitrogen fixing soil microorganisms, like legumes. Kudzu is in fact a legume, but surely gives more good nitrogen to the soil than the bad nitrogen oxides dumped to the atmosphere. In other hand, isoprene is not considered a pollutant and it is a normal byproduct of green plants. The problem is when isoprene gets in contact to NOx and generates tropospheric ozone, the same thing food-beans could lead to. Actually, under low levels of NOx it has the opposite benefical effect. In other hand, isoprene emissions by plants appear to be higher under higher temperatures as well as photosynthesis and hence, growing. Therefore, combusting fossil fuels leading to higher levels of NOx and higher atmospheric temperatures are likely a problem linked to Kudzu, but in a very different way you did mention.

  • Invasive species are the problem. Men can move freely around the world, that is not supposed to be the case with plants. Nearly each time a plant is brought to a continent where it wasn’t, there are problems with native species.

    Hopefully, not many companies make biofuels out of kudzu. Switching to some other plant might not be at huge cost. But is there an authority to tell them not to grow kudzu anymore?

  • Frank DeFreytas


    Not to be flip, but could kudzu be grown in New Zealand where there is a very large hole in the ozone layer. Far fetched?

    Poor kudzu, too good to be true


    • Tina Casey

      Yikes! Thanks for your comment but I was lucky enough to spend a few months in New Zealand a while back (shout-out to the boys of the OTC!) and the first thing I learned was that they already have enough problems with gorse, another non-native invader. Imagine kudzu with spikes…

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