Researchers try to turn roadside weed into biofuel

Friday, November 27, 2015
This image shows curly cup gumweed, a sticky cousin of the sunflower, that is the target of research into efforts to use it to produce biofuels. (Whip Villarreal ~ University of Nevada, Reno)

RENO, Nev. -- Three decades ago, a University of Nevada researcher who obtained one of the first U.S. Energy Department grants to study the potential to turn plants into biofuels became convinced a roadside weed -- curly top gumweed -- was growing along the road to the future.

Scientists who've been cultivating gumweed on the Reno campus think they are on the verge of producing diesel fuel from the sticky cousin of the sunflower that grows across much of Nevada's high desert.

Glenn Miller, an environmental sciences professor in UNR's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, is leading the project in the second year of a four-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Miller didn't know much about gumweed when Darrell Lemaire, a mining engineer, secured the DOE grant in 1980 and approached him about doing some research in his lab.

The two scientists began growing gumweed on campus about 10 years ago, and their project evolved from the premise biofuels shouldn't be competing with food crops in Nebraska and Kansas.

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