From Swamp to Gas Pump – Cattails Take on New Role

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Cattails are among nature’s most primitive species. They were here when dinosaurs ruled. They kept baby Moses from floating down the Nile to a premature death. They’re ubiquitous, found in ditches the world over. Grown in clean water, they’re edible. Grown in wastewater, they remove pollutants from the sewage so it can be safely returned to the natural water cycle. In the process, cattails absorb the atmosphere’s increasingly abundant carbon dioxide to fuel photosynthesis, producing sugars and starches that can be converted easily, cleanly, and cheaply into alcohol used for biofuel.

Biofuels solve the same problems that petroleum fuel creates. Plants use the carbon dioxide they remove from the environment to grow. Harvested and converted to alcohol, they return that same energy when used as fuel. This is why corn has garnered a lot of attention as a source of biofuel. But corn-for-ethanol is problematic. Land devoted to growing fuel is land that can’t be devoted to growing food. And, unless it’s grown organically, corn is fertilized with materials that pollute our groundwater and contribute to global warming. Gas-powered tractors harvest it; gas-powered vehicles truck it to market. All this for a fuel source that yields – depending on which study you consult — 75 to 200 gallons per acre? There’s got to be a better way…

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