Noxious Weed New Source for Biodiesel?

| October 11, 2007

The demand for biodiesel is ever increasing and traditional oil crops like soybeans and peanuts may not be the best feedstocks for the Earth-friendly fuel. According to the National Biodiesel Board, demand for biodiesel has increased from about a half million gallons in 1999 to around 225 million gallons in 2006. It takes a bushel of soybeans to produce one and a half gallons of soy diesel, and with the price of soybeans on the rise, the total raw material cost of 100% soy diesel is over $3.50 a gallon. It's not surprising that biodiesel producers are looking for other plant oils to feed their fuel, and ironically one source, the Chinese tallow tree, is classified as a noxious weed in some parts of the country.

Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum) came to this country in the 17th century and has plagued the coastal plains from South Carolina to Texas for years as an invasive weedy species. Chinese tallow is capable of producing about 15 times the oil per acre that soybeans produce. Though establishing the crop is more expensive up front, its perennial nature means that a single planting would produce oil for years to come. At the moment, Chinese tallow isn’t susceptible to any microbial or insect pests, but its tendency to spread is problematic and may make it difficult to grow legally in some areas.

To read more about the potential value of this weedy tree, check out our resource list.

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