Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

New Fuels: Biofuels: Duckweed as a cost-competitive raw material for biofuel production

August 12, 2013

Duckweed
Duckweed, the quick-growing plant covering this pond, ranks as an ideal raw material for producing biofuels.
Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Summary

The search for a less-expensive, sustainable source of biomass, or plant material, for producing gasoline, diesel and jet fuel has led scientists to duckweed, that fast-growing floating plant that turns ponds and lakes green. That’s the topic of a report in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

The search for a less-expensive, sustainable source of biomass, or plant material, for producing gasoline, diesel and jet fuel has led scientists to duckweed. That’s the fast-growing floating plant that turns ponds and lakes green. The study was published in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

The researchers explain that duckweed, an aquatic plant that floats on or near the surface of still or slow-moving freshwater, is ideal as a raw material for biofuel production.

Here is Chris Floudas, Ph.D., who is with Princeton University, and is a co-author of the paper:

“Duckweed grows fast, thrives in wastewater that has no other use, does not impact the food supply chain and can be harvested more easily than algae and other aquatic plants. However, few studies have been done on the use of duckweed as a raw material for biofuel production.”

Floudas describes various scenarios for duckweed refineries that use proven existing technology to produce gasoline, diesel and kerosene.

“These technologies include conversion of biomass to a gas; conversion of the gas to methanol, or wood alcohol; and conversion of methanol to gasoline and other fuels. The results show that small-scale duckweed refineries could produce cost-competitive fuel when the price of oil reaches $100 per barrel. Oil would have to cost only about $72 per barrel for larger duckweed refineries to be cost-competitive.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Katie Cottingham at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Christodoulos A. Floudas, Ph.D.
Christodoulos A. Floudas, Ph.D., Princeton University