Monday, December 8, 2008

Harvest biofuel crops from the sea floor?

One of the many problems with biofuel is that even if food crops aren’t used to make biofuels, land formerly used for food crops will be used to grown non-edible biofuel crops. Finding a way to produce biofuel feedstock without using either food crops or land has been a difficult problem to solve.

In 1990 Science Magazine reported on studies conducted by the University of Arizona using Salicornia bigelovii Torr (Salicornia). The studies compared Salicornia to soy and sunflowers as a “source of seed and biomass”. The results showed that Salicornia was a better source for both.

The University of Arizona conducted “6 years of field tests in an extreme coastal desert environment”. What the scientists discovered was that Salicornia was a great source of oil and solids that could be used in animal food.

Salicornia seed contains 26-31 percent oil and 31 percent protein. The oil contained in Salicornia is 1.7 times the amount of oil found in sunflowers. In other words, Salicornia is a good feedstock for biofuel manufacture.

Fast forward 18 years and a new article in Wired discusses utilizing the work conducted at University of Arizona primarily by Robert Glenn. With the increasingly negative rhetoric coming from the United Nations over the use of good crop land for biofuel crop production, why not switch to growing Salicornia on the many acres of coastal desert ocean floor available for biofuel crops?

Salicornia could also be grown in other areas that are unsuitable for food crops, for instance, in overly salty soil inland. Some agricultural has become unusable because of over-salinization. Planting Salicornia in these areas would repurpose the land and probably revitalize the local economy.

All of this depends on the worlds continuing emphasis on using biofuel over fossil fuels.
With the decrease in the cost of a barrel of oil, that may be eliminating the sudden surge in the development and use of biofuels. Producing biofuel is a costly enterprise. If the price of gas dips below certain levels, it won’t matter what or where feedstock is grown, the cost of turning it into biofuel won’t be competitive.

Salicornia is an innovative potential source of biofuel feedstock, but only if biofuel continues to be affordable to produce and purchase.

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