Tiny aquatic plant can clean up hog farms and be used for ethanol production

April 8th, 2009 - 3:51 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 8 (ANI): Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that a tiny aquatic plant can be used to clean up animal waste at industrial hog farms and be used for ethanol production, thus contributing to solve the global energy crisis.

Their research shows that growing duckweed on hog wastewater can produce five to six times more starch per acre than corn, according to researcher Dr. Jay Cheng.

This means that ethanol production using duckweed could be “faster and cheaper than from corn,” said fellow researcher Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp.

“We can kill two birds - biofuel production and wastewater treatment - with one stone - duckweed,” Cheng said.

Starch from duckweed can be readily converted into ethanol using the same facilities currently used for corn, Cheng added.

Corn is currently the primary crop used for ethanol production in the United States.

However, its use has come under fire in recent years because of concerns about the amount of energy used to grow corn and commodity price disruptions resulting from competition for corn between ethanol manufacturers and the food and feed industries.

Duckweed presents an attractive, non-food alternative that has the potential to produce significantly more ethanol feedstock per acre than corn; exploit existing corn-based ethanol production processes for faster scale-up; and turn pollutants into a fuel production system.

The duckweed system consists of shallow ponds that can be built on land unsuitable for conventional crops, and is so efficient it generates water clean enough for re-use.

The technology can utilize any nutrient-rich wastewater, from livestock production to municipal wastewater.

Large-scale hog farms manage their animal waste by storing it in large “lagoons” for biological treatment.

Duckweed utilizes the nutrients in the wastewater for growth, thus capturing these nutrients and preventing their release into the environment.

In other words, “Duckweed could be an environmentally friendly, economically viable feedstock for ethanol,” said Cheng.

Cheng and Stomp are currently establishing a pilot-scale project to further investigate the best way to establish a large-scale system for growing duckweed on animal wastewater, and then harvesting and drying the duckweed. (ANI)

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