Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) was introduced to the United States twenty-five years before the turn of the twentieth century, and is currently found naturalized throughout the southeastern states 125 years later. It is said that there is not a county in the southern US that lacks kudzu. The deep tap root of the kudzu vine can help hold the soil in place and allows the plant to prosper during dry spells, as opposed to corn, whose growth is dependent on sufficient rain fall and irrigation water. If the ethanol corn growers end up in a summer drought, this could definitely hurt ethanol production.
Corn has to be irrigated for growth and uses large quantities of water.
Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the early 1950s the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers in the southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion as above, and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years.
However, it would soon be discovered that the southeastern US has near-perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control — hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, temperate winters with few hard freezes (kudzu cannot tolerate low freezing temperatures that bring the frost line down through its entire root system, a rare occurrence in this region), and no natural predators. As such, the once-promoted plant was named a pest weed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1953.
Check this out if you really want to see the spread of kudzu on houses and buildings in the south.
So what does Kudzu have to do with ethanol? Simply, due to the starch (sugar) content, kudzu can be used to replace corn to make ethanol. Will kudzu take the place of food ingredients being used to make ethanol? A resounding “Yes!” is stated by Mr. Doug Mizell, co-founder of Agro*Gas Industries in Cleveland, Tennessee. Mizell and company co-founder, Tom Monahan, have dubbed the kudzu-based-ethanol, “Kudzunol.” Kudzu is an obvious resource: “There’s 7.2 million acres of kudzu in the south that’s absolutely good to no one,” said Mizell. “It grows a foot a day, 60 feet a season and can be harvested twice a year and not even hurt the stand.”
All the kudzu plant is used after harvesting, no part goes wasted.
“All the leftovers from the harvested kudzu are pulled in, and we can break that cellulose down and make ethanol from it,” said Mizell. “It’s not tied to the commodities market, so the price won’t raise and lower in relation to the stock markets.”
Kudzu is a vine and it’s not like hay, wheat or soybeans when harvesting. If Mr. Mizell and Mr. Monahan can work out a fairly economical way to harvest the kudzu, there is plenty of the stuff around during the summer months to harvest. One question, what do these gentlemen use the rest of the year during the late fall and winter months to replace kudzu when it is dormant?
Agro*Gas plans to break ground on an ethanol producing plant in McMinn County or a surrounding county by end of the year and hopefully begin production in 2009.
The plant will be environmentally friendly and funded by private dollars. What? Private dollars and people who want to make a difference without the federal government. We wish these gentlemen the best in their new venture.
View another tv interview on Kudzunol
Kudzu is the kind of stock the U.S. needs to be working with because it is a weed, not a food product that will be diminished from our food supply. The U.S. Congress needs to take a hard look at where the bio-fuels subsidies need to be spent, then this technology which, uses a weed and not a food product, should be considered. I would take a hard look at supporting ethanol as a fuel if this technology stands on its own merit. As I have always said, when you have a commodity product competing with America’s food supply, the production of corn ethanol is not the answer. Go Green Kudzu!
One challenging issue for all the bio-fuel producers and America. If oil keeps rising in price as predicted, it doesn’t matter how great the technology, there will come a time when the energy costs will cost more than the production of the product. What will happen then?