September 2008, Vol. 20, No.9


Energizing Crops on Exhibit

A new exhibit at the U.S. National Arboretum offers the opportunity to get an up-close view of various existing and potential bioenergy crops. The Power Plants Exhibit, which opened in June, is scheduled to run through mid-October.

Visitors can follow a trail through a garden with 21 different varieties of plants that can be used for biodiesel or ethanol. These plants include field crops, palms, trees, flowering annuals, and algae, according to an article by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Some of the plants are actively being used to produce energy while others are being assessed for their power potential. Some crops that can be potentially used for energy, such as switchgrass, have the benefits of only needing to be planted once and requiring fewer inputs than corn to keep producing biofeedstock. Other potential crops can be grown on land that is unsuitable for food production, or have significant environmental benefits such as soil enrichment.

The 0.4-ha (1-ac) exhibit includes interpretive materials that provideinformation about how each plant can be used for alternative energy production. USDA divided these plants into four categories of bioenergy: sugar ethanol, biodiesel, grain ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol. 

A game of plant exploration designed especially for school-age children also can be experienced at the Arboretum. The game illustrates the different ways plants play a role in creating new fuel sources. A game brochure can be picked up in the visitor center with a game card to return to the front desk when complete. Children who answer the questions will be awarded a small prize, according to the Arboretum Web site.

The Arboretum is operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a scientific research agency of the USDA. The Research, Education, and Economics mission area of the USDA supports the exhibit and the development of bioenergy. For more information, see . 

Promising Treatment May Keep Fish Alive in Lake Superior

A new water treatment developed by Michigan Technological University (Houghton) professor David Hand could keep a deadly fish disease out of Lake Superior.

Hand has devised a way to treat ballast water in various sea vessels that kills the virus causing viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), according to a Michigan Tech article. Ballast water has been cited as one of the most likely vectors for moving VHS-infected water throughout the Great Lakes region, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

As a professor of civil and environmental engineering, Hand uses a simple treatment of disinfecting the ballast water with sodium hypochlorite, household bleach, and then with ascorbic acid or vitamin C, which neutralizes the bleach before the water is released into the lake. 

VHS, an often-fatal disease, has been attacking fish populations in the lower Great Lakes since 2003, according to the DNR. Fish species affected range from walleyes to salmon, in all of the Great Lakes except for Lake Superior, according to the Michigan Tech article.

Hand has gotten good initial results from testing his method on Ranger III, a National Park Service vessel that shuttles visitors and staff from Houghton, Mich., to Isle Royale National Park. In addition, his system will be lab-tested at the University of Wisconsin–Superior to help determine the safety, effectiveness, and cost of the treatment.

Hand also hopes to address the problem of exotic and invasive species transport that is associated with ballast water. Hand feels that all boaters should sterilize their bilge, ballast, and livewell water, according to the Michigan Tech article.

“Ships unload their ballast water from all over the world and with it all kinds of exotic, invasive species, from viruses and bacteria to the zebra mussel,” said Hand. “We really need something for all ships, as well as pleasure boats.”

If Hand’s system proves to be safe and effective, he hopes to map a strategy to implement its use throughout the Great Lakes region.