The chunky looking green plants are Salicornia bigelovii, which have been proposed to be used as a biofuel crop. Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service
In a bid to put to rest the food versus fuel debate two scientists from NASA, Jelte Rozema and Timothy Flowers, have pointed out in an article for Science magazine that the work of University of Arizona plant biologist Robert Glenn should be seriously considered. Glenn has proposed that by using saltwater-loving plants (halophytes) nearly a half a million square miles of land unsuitable for food crop cultivation could be opened up for production of biofuels.
Wired sums up Glenn's estimates:1.5 Billion Barrels Per Year From Halophytes
After taking into account environmental protections and other factors, Glenn's report estimates that 480,000 square miles of unused land around the world could be used to grow a special set of salt-tolerant plants — halophytes. Glenn's team calculated that this could produce 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent per year. That's 35 percent of the United States' liquid fuel needs.
As far as what halophytes could be used for biofuel, Rozema and Flowers point out that Salicornia bigelovii , commonly known as Dwarf Glasswort yields 1.7 times the oil per acre than sunflowers, and that some others produce more than switchgrass.
Currently there are trials underway in Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Mexico examining the potential of Salicornia for use in biofuels. Global Seawater (the company doing the trials in Mexico) claims that 90-100 gallons of biodiesel could be produced per acre.