Cutting Cattails for Fuel? North Carolina Researchers Investigate Potential Ethanol Feedstock
photo by Sharon Mollerus
It really does seem like people will try to turn just about anything into ethanol these days. Recently we wrote about research into using kudzu as a feedstock for ethanol, as well as one businessman who is trying to commercialize 'kudzunol'. Another potential feedstock, abundant in some areas though nothing like the creeping kudzu carpet, which is being investigated is cattails.
Cattails Harvested from Hog-Waste Ponds
Researchers from the biological engineering program at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University are currently working on testing the potential of cattails. Led by Abolghasem Shabazi, the work centers around harvesting cattails from hog-waste lagoons, drying them and processing them into ethanol.
Shabazi believes, as many people increasingly are, that the future of ethanol does not rest with corn—currently 95% of ethanol is produced from —but with cattails or other wild cellulosic feedstocks, as well as cellulosic waste from agriculture or forestry.
"We have an abundance of supply of these materials, and they are low-costs and can provide us a local supply," Shabazi told the News-Record.
Diversification of Energy Supply is Key
Nothing new here in terms of technology, but this is the first time I've seen reference to cattails specifically being used for cellulosic ethanol. Shabazi also hits upon a crucial aspect of renewable energy policy: Diversifying energy source to suit the local conditions. If cattails are available locally, then use cattails. If kudzu is eating your town, use kudzu.
It's any easy concept to grasp, but one which collectively we've gotten away from. Particularly in the United States where uniformity in supply of many things—crops, clothing, culture, civic development patterns—has become more and more prevalent. Whether it's in the source of our electricity or the source of our calories, a more diversified menu of options is the way forward to a robust post-carbon economy.