Duckweed

The name of this plant may throw you off, but do not be fooled because this tiny little weed has the potential for big plans.

Duckweed is a candidate to becoming a powerhouse for biofuel. Another name for duckweeds are water lens, and they are aquatic plants that float just beneath the surface of low-leveled waters like wetlands. In South Asia, they are sometimes consumed because they are a significant source of protein, even more so than soybeans. Not only are they used as a food source, but also as a pharmaceutical drug. Waste water treatment facilities use this plant as well to prevent the development of algae, control mosquito birthrate and get rid of toxins that may slip in.

Biofuel is a fuel that contains energy from carbon fixation, and is created by living organisms such as plants or microalgae. Even though biofuel has been around ever since cars were invented (Henry Ford and peanut oil), the reason why it has become so important as of late is because of the rising oil prices, energy security and the slow destruction of our ecosystem. It is a more natural way to gain fuel for the human population to use. It is even more reliable because it is a renewable source; if we were to ever run out of plants, it is much easier to grow them than keep digging into underground oil reserves.

So why haven’t we jumped on the wagon of a new, replenishable source of energy?

Unfortunately, the creation of biofuel isn’t as easy as put out to be. The long term process of growing crops, making fertilizers and processing plants into fuel consumes a lot of energy than regular fossil fuels would. However, duckweed may be a solution to that problem. It is among the fastest growing plants in the entire world because it is able to reproduce so quickly that it can at least double its own population under temperate weather conditions. They also have very few amounts of “woody material” like cellulose because they do not have long stocky stems like some other plants on land would. This makes it easier for biofuel production, as it has always been a major problem.

Along with all of the physical properties that duckweed has to make it suitable for biofuel production, its genes are also another helpful key in this process. Starch can be instantly be used as a biofuel source which can thus be converted into ethanol like the way corn can be converted into such fuel. But the duckweed does not have enough starch-producing genes to be able to be used for such production; it does, however, have more copies of genes for enzymes involved in nitrogen absorption and metabolism versus other plants that do not have as many of these genes.

The Ceres Energy Group in New Jersey has already been working on producing electricity from duckweed, and many scientists and researchers are looking towards them in the next five years or so to have this weed become a viable biofuel source. If duckweed does become a plant to rely on for natural fuel, then it would be more than helpful for creating a better lifestyle for the planet in cleaner and easier ways.


This entry was written by Sofia S. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Duckweed

  1. Pingback: Mr. Mohn's Biology Home Turf | Weedy Wednesday – Duckweed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *