August 18, 2006

Biofuel Production from Brownfields?

Not every industrial site requires Superfund emergency cleanup. But enough emit toxic fumes, liquids and solids that the surrounding landscape can be damaged for decades and, left unattended, could pollute air, groundwater, flora, and fauna (photo from Sustainablog). These properties are known as "brownfields" and, according to researchers from Michigan State University, could be reclaimed enough to grow biomass for biofuel production. Ongoing cultivation could eventually recover the property for other purposes. Here are some excerpts...

Polluted Sites Nationwide Could Become Biofuels Proving Grounds
from Renewable Energy Access

Kurt Thelen, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences, is leading the investigation to examine the possibility that some oilseed crops like soybeans, sunflower and canola, and other crops such as corn and switchgrass, can be grown on abandoned industrial sites, or brownfields, for use in ethanol or biodiesel fuel production.

"Right now, brownfields don't grow anything," Thelen said. "This may seem like a drop in the bucket, but we're looking at the possibilities of taking land that isn't productive and using it to both learn and produce."

The project now is a two-acre parcel that is part of a former industrial dump site in Oakland County's Rose Township. Thelen's group is looking to determine if crops grown on brownfield sites can produce adequate yields to make them viable for use in biofuel production. The crops also need to produce adequate quantities of seed oil.

A secondary objective is to examine whether the growing plants actually contribute to bioremediation, meaning they take up contaminants from the soils, without affecting their quality for use in biofuels. This might make them especially useful to grow on contaminated brownfields.

"Biofuel production is going to require a significant land base to meet future production expectations," Thelen said. "Use of marginal lands or sites not preferable for food crops is a good idea. We'll be looking at whether it is something that might offer multiple benefits."

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