One of the numerous downsides of economic globalization over the past couple of decades has been the rise of invasive alien species. In nature, ecosystems eventually reach an equilibrium with predatory species evolving to take on native species, each keeping the other in check. Unfortunately, when you drop a species into an ecosystem where it has no natural predators, it tends to run wild. Such has been the case with plants like kudzu and insects like the emerald ash borer (which has devastated ash tree populations in Michigan and elsewhere).
With the ongoing debate over food vs. fuel with corn ethanol and soy biodiesel, researchers are investigating alternatives. Ideally, the energy balance of biofuels is maximized by using crops that require a minimum of fertilization, water and cultivation. While the focus has been on crops like switch grass, anyone who has been afflicted by kudzu knows that it grows at incredible rates with minimal inputs. Researchers from the University of Toronto and U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating whether kudzu can be economically harvested. Kudzu is up to 68 percent carbohydrate by weight and could potentially produce as much ethanol as corn with about 270 gallons per acre. The problem is that much of the existing kudzu now is growing on inaccessible hillsides. Still, kudzu requires much less maintenance than corn so this definitely has a lot of potential.

[Source: Discovery, via EcoGeek]

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