CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — University of Illinois researchers say that a common crop parasite called a nematode has been found in large numbers on two plants being grown to make biofuels.
They aren’t sure yet if that’s a serious problem. But they’re studying the microscopic round worms and the miscanthus and switch grass plants they were discovered on to find out.
Researchers at the university’s Energy Biosciences Institute say some of the tiny parasites they’ve found reduce biomass in plants. The amount of biomass produced by the plants being studied is one key factor in how much fuel they can produce.
Nematodes are a common crop pest. Biofuel crops where they have been found were in Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.
Rentech (AMEX:RTK) and partner Clearfuels Technology will get $23 million in grants to add a gasifier to existing facilities. This will help in the process of turning woody biomass into diesel and jet fuel. Other partners in the Aiea, Hawaii plant include construction company URS Corporation (NYSE:URS) and utility Hawaiian Electric (NYSE:HE).
The United States recently moved one step closer to energy independence this past Friday as the Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, announced the first wave of grant money towards biofuel. While the corn ethanol dream in America is pretty much over, as many of the main producers have filed for bankruptcy or had their assets folded into more traditional oil companies (such as VeraSun into refiner Valero (NYSE:VLO)), biofuel from non-feed stocks or from waste are another matter.