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Kudzu Considered for Potential As Fuel Source

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Kudzu Considered for Potential As Fuel Source


Kudzu Considered for Potential As Fuel Source

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Tyler Rowland got a permit for his still this week. Now, he says it's to help turn kudzu, that profligate vine that grows and grows all over the American South, into ethanol, a source of power. Mr. Rowland is 18 and has been working on this prolonged science project for four years. He won the grand prize of his school science fair last week and heads to the regionals next week at Florida State University. Tyler Rowland joins us now from the headmaster's office at the McClay School in Tallahassee.

Mr. Rowland, thanks so very much for being with us.

Mr. TYLER ROWLAND (High School Senior): Thank you.

SIMON: Is there anything in particular about Kudzu that you think make it a good candidate to be used for ethanol?

Mr. ROWLAND: Well, currently ethanol is one of our top uses of fuel source, you know, probably second to gasoline, and even our gasoline is a mixture of ethanol to reduce the harmful emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. But our current, you know, sources of ethanol production are corn, potatoes and even wheat. The nice thing about kudzu is it's so abundant, we don't really have a strong use for it yet, and it's not a food source, so we're just using a pest plant to make something good out of it.

SIMON: You've tried other stuff with kudzu, haven't you?

Mr. ROWLAND: Yeah, fertilizer was my 10th grade project and the data supported that plants that were given the extract as a fertilizer grew faster and taller than those plants that were just treated with regular water. And then last year was my biggest use so far. The data supported the idea that the extraction from kudzu leaves and kudzu roots can be use as an insect repellant on (unintelligible) when administered to green bean plants.

SIMON: If you could figure out the key to turning kudzu into something useful, it sounds like you're going to try a little bit of everything. Help us understand what that could mean, because there are lot of people that just don't know what to do with kudzu in the South, aren't there.

Mr. ROWLAND: Yeah, it will just completely cover or blankets, you know, a telephone pole or the side of the building and you won't realize there's a building there.

SIMON: So you're trying to turn a nuisance into a source of energy.

Mr. ROWLAND: You can put it that way.

SIMON: We mentioned at the top that you've just gotten a permit for a still. Now, do you really need a still to convert kudzu into usable ethanol or is this just a high school prank to get a still in the school?

Mr. ROWLAND: No, it's not a high school prank. What it is is when you have fermentation, you get an alcohol solution and right now we're using a breathalyzer on it and comparing it to controls, hypothesizing that it's roughly five percent to 15 percent ethanol. And that is, however, not just ethanol; it's got other mixture solutions such as water or any other byproduct of fermentation, which is hard to distinguish what it is. The stilling just separates all the different materials into separate groups.

SIMON: Can you tell us what your headmaster's face looked like when you said I need a permit for a still, sir?

Mr. ROWLAND: Unforgettable. It's something I'm always going to remember.

SIMON: Mr. Rowland, nice talking to you. Good luck.

Mr. ROWLAND: Thank you for the interview.

SIMON: Tyler Rowland, scientist and high school senior.

And this is NPR News.

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