Rehabilitation of disused industrial sites has been a costly and
contentious issue in urban planning. Sites that are mildly or
moderately contaminated are called brownfields.
Research is underway to see if some brownfields can be used
to grow crops, specifically for the production of biofuels.
State University, known affectionately as “Moo-U,” in
collaboration with DaimlerChrysler and NextEnergy,
has small plots of soybean, corn, canola and switchgrass plants growing
in a former industrial dump site in Oakland County, MI. The
study is being led by Kurt
Thelen, associate professor of crop and soil sciences.
The intent is to see if the plants can serve two purposes
simultaneously: assist with phytoremediation, and contribute to the
economical production of biodiesel and/or ethanol fuel.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The words
“industrial brownfields” conjure many images —
deserted, decaying buildings, broken concrete and wire fences. Those
visions don’t include tidy rows of soybeans, corn or
switchgrass — except in Oakland County’s Rose Township.
On a 2-acre parcel that is part of a former industrial dump site, small
soybean, corn, canola and switchgrass plants are soaking up the sun
just like their rural cousins.
But unlike the rolling fields of crops across Michigan, this small plot
is part of a new partnership between the DaimlerChrysler Corporation,
Michigan State University (MSU) and NextEnergy, a nonprofit
organization that supports energy technology development. The results
of the work conducted here might sprout similar sites across the state
and nation in areas that aren’t desirable for commercial or
residential uses, contribute crops for biofuel production and help
clean up contaminated soils…
…“Biofuel production is going to require a significant land
base to meet future production expectations,” Thelen says.
“Use of marginal lands or sites not preferable for food crops
is a good idea. We’ll be looking at whether it is something
that might offer multiple benefits.”
This is exactly the kind of research we need; it has the
potential to improve economic and environmental conditions at the same
skeptics need to keep in mind that the use of biofuels is
still in its infancy. By itself, it won’t solve any of our
major problems. But as one component in a comprehensive
strategy, it holds considerable promise.