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article imagePlant Seeds Are a Biofuel Source

By Bob Ewing     Jul 10, 2007 in Science
In the agrofuel world there is a new player in town, one that has advantages that the other players do not have. The pretty pink seaside mallow is a possible contender in the agrofuel industry.
In the agrofuel world there is a new plant on the horizon, a plant that is edible and can be used to produce fuel. The pink-flowered seashore mallow, aka, Erythrina herbacea or pink coral bean differs from the existing plants.
It is a perennial which means that it can renew itself for two seasons or more. The pink-flowered mallow is also a halophyte. A halophyte will grow naturally in areas where salt is present in the root area, such as in saline semi-deserts, mangrove swamps, marshes and sloughs, and seashores.
This tall and attractive plant is also edible and can be eaten like peanuts for example. The seeds are approximately the size of BB gun ammunition.
According to John Gallagher, a researcher at the University of Delaware and a marine biosciences professor, the seeds are a promising agrofuel source. The seeds have a composition that is similar to cottonseed and soybeans, two plants which are already in the agrofuel family.
However, booth soybeans and cottonseeds are annual plants and therefore, need to be planted every year. Another advantage is that because this mallow is salt tolerant it can be grown where other agrofuel crops cannot. This means that existing land used to grow food for human consumption does not have to be taken out of production to grow the plants for fuel.
According to Gallagher, global climate change is threatening coastal aquifers and encroaching on farmland and the mallow may help retain the economic value of arable land that is becoming marshland. If he is correct, this could reduce the economic impact that global climate change could have on these regions.
Another bonus, economically, is that the meal that remains after the oil is removed from the seeds retains sufficient protein and can be used as livestock feed. In addition, the stem has potential to be used in cellulosic ethanol and the plant roots are able to be converted into an industrial gum.
If Gallagher is correct in his comments then this is a versatile plant that may win ready acceptance from communities looking for an economic turn around and ease the concerns of those who are worried about arable land being taken out of food production.
To date a 2 ½ acre plot has been devoted to growing the seashore mallow in Sussex County. This is conventional farmland; however, there are plans to set up an experimental plot somewhere else where the soil is saline.
There is a need to improve the seed yield according to Gallagher, but this will be achieved through selective breeding, tissue culturing and genetic engineering
More about Seeds, From plant said, Biodiesel source
 
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