bioremediation and biofuels

Submitted by Susan Miller on Mon, 01/29/2007 - 10:56.


Imagine abandoned brownfields in Cleveland growing crops for biofuels while cleaning the soils! In this article about a study being done by Kurt Thelen at Michigan State University, he looks at that very possible solution.  Imagine lots with green plants growing in Cleveland neighborhoods -- some for food where the soil is good and some to heal the soil and produce a fuel alternative for vehicles!

I found some research being conducted in New Jersey about mustard as a bioremediation solution for lead contaminated soils. I have yet to find out whether or not the solution worked.

I don't know if this sort of research is going on here in Cleveland. Does anyone know?

Imagine -- Not a Soybeanfield -- a biofuels field -- right in Tremont that would clean the soils! Imagine the city not paying to cut grass on abandoned lots, but the City of Cleveland leasing this land to biofuels producers... It might be a dream come true…

New Industries to Fuel the Economy
On a 2-acre parcel that is part of a former industrial dump site, small plots of soybeans, corn, canola and switchgrass plants are soaking up the sun, part of a new partnership between the DaimlerChrysler Corporation, MSU and NextEnergy, a non-profit organization. Researchers are studying whether sites like this one, which aren’t desirable for residential or commercial use, can be used to grow crops for ethanol or biodiesel fuel production and help clean up contaminated soils. The same crops are being grown in plots on the MSU campus and in the Upper Peninsula to compare yield and quality between latitudes and also determine if these crops may be profitable bioenergy crops for the U.P. Researchers are also studying the cost effectiveness and energy-saving potential of processing canola into chips for home heating and commercial-size stoves.

Crop researchers are looking at what crops and crop varieties possess the best qualities for use in biofuel production. Kurt Thelen, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences, is leading a research project focused on examining the possibility that some varieties of oilseed crops — including soybeans, sunflower, and canola — and other crops such as corn and switchgrass can be grown on abandoned industrial sites for use in ethanol or biodiesel fuel production.

Here's more on the story from PRnewswire and even more from EPA Superfund Redevelopment Program

Envision a healthy green future for Cleveland.


Susan Miller Image 650.jpg113.62 KB

Mel Chin got me thinking about this...

I was at an awesome symposium at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2004 that featured very cool artist Mel Chin, who has worked on combining bioremediation and installation art - here, we can make this common practice - excellent insight. Here is my write up on Mel Chin's take on this, from my notes posted here:

Consider "Revival Field", a "green remediation" he started in a toxic landfill in Minnesota, in 2000, still living as art today, which uses heavy-metal- tolerant plants to absorb contaminants from biohazardous soil, transferring the toxins to the plants, cleaning the soil, while recovering the metal - pure genius rising from the mind of this great artist and now driving research at none other than the US Department of Agriculture. How is this art? In concept, Chin refers to this as a sculpture using the reduction process - just a stone-carver reduces the mass of a stone, Chin reduces the toxins of the Earth. In execution, Chin laid out the Revival Field in functional yet aesthetic ways, maximizing visual expression. In context, the field transcends form and time as it is an ever-changing work evolving from toxic wasteland to a green field to naked harvested land (and the ash and recovered metal of the harvested and incinerated plants), to a more healthy canvas supporting new life not possible there before, and the process continues. Read more about this project here.

Disrupt IT

great subject

Susan, your commentary is especially timely given our current work with remediation  study for display at this year's first annual Beaming Bioneers conference here in Cleveland.  As part of our due diligence efforts two of our board  members visited the Bloomington conference and came back with a wealth of insight and experience.  Nature teaches us essential lessons which we need to emulate and inculcate into our own patterns of life as human beings and integral members of the ecosystem at large.  This is the essential premise behind biomimicry and the crux of the bioneers movement.  Last year's conference featured a world class mushroom expert who truly believes fungi will help save the world and he won me over with his energy, passion, cornucopia of patents, and committed action plan.   There are fungi that act as natural pesticides, remediate toxins like lead from the soil, and cure diseases. 

Thanks for a great post and check, for the bioneers site.  Peace.

more green dreams

Kristine Stephens is making a film about Urban Gardening "From the Ground Up". I am hoping that it might be shown here. The black and white image in my original post is from her website. The link begs the question about urban gardening here in Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio region. With so much available land in the city, could we see the rise of an urban gardening movement? Are we already seeing it in small ways with City Fresh?

Luckily we have brilliant thinkers like Brad Masi. Read about his food production ideas here. We finally have numerous markets in the city where one can find locally grown food and Community Supported Agriculture in our region.

Having grown up on CSNY and the Kent State shootings, have we actually decided to "get back to the land"? Have we realized that "We are stardust, we are golden. We are ten billion year old carbon. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden"?

Check out these pages:
Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy

Eat locally grown food. Feed someone in a slow way with many healthy courses and rest periods for conversation and imaginings of new fields of ideas between courses.

Imagine and discuss new industries for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio like growing biofuels and researching and discovering remedies for brownfields -- solutions that reclaim land in our shrinking cities and produce sustainable fuels and food and salves for the soil, water and air.

It may be a slow process this re-learning of systems that have worked for thousands of years, but it is worth the time it takes, worth the realigning of our thoughts and processes, worth the infusion of new ideas with the old. We can share and trade the Balm of Gilead.

Today the snow was crisp and sparkling as I tossed it from the shovel. The air was bright with sunlight. Hope springs eternal.

Mr. Smarty Plants on phytoremediation

I asked Mr. Smarty about Indian Mustard
-----Original Message-----
From: Susan Miller
To: SmartyPlants
Posted To: SmartyPlants
Conversation: mustard questions
Subject: mustard questions
The EPA phytoremediation documents say lead contamination can be reduced with Brassica juncea.

Successful Reduction of Lead Contamination

Phytoextraction was demonstrated at a site in Trenton New Jersey that had been used for the manufacture of lead acid batteries. Phytoextraction using Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) soil amendment reduced the average surface lead concentration by 13 percent in one growing season. The target soil concentration of 400 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) was achieved in approximately 72 percent of a 4,500 square-foot area. (Some of the reduction may be attributed to dilution as a result of tilling and spreading contaminants deeper into the soil column.)
For more information, contact Larry D'Andrea of EPA at (202) 673-4314 or D'Andrea.Larry
I don't find it in your database of native plants. Is it native to Northeast Ohio?
This makes me think it is a native.
We have lots of lead contaminated land here.

and here is the response I got:

The answer to your question about Brassica juncea and phytoremediation of lead has been posted on the Ask Mr. Smarty Plants web page here.

Thank you very much for your question.  We hope you will contact the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center again with your native plant questions.
Best wishes,
Nan Hampton
Ask Mr. Smarty Plants
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
e-mail: smartyplants [at] wildflower [dot] org
phone: 512-292-4200
"The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants, and landscapes."
Here's a picture of the mustard

Mr. Smarty's recommendations include Sunflowers...


1,000,000s of sunflowers, and acres of switchgrass

What could say more about Cleveland as a smart, progressive community than 1,000,000s of sunflower plants growing in every yard and vacant lot to soak up the lead and make this a place worth living, eventually. The other beauty of this plant strategy is it will mark where there is lead in the soil, to keep humans away. I love this idea. Evelyn pointed out this is the perfect Guerilla Gardening move - we will buy 100s of pounds of sunflower seeds (cheap) and spread them all over the city. The question is, would the seeds from the sunflowers contain enough lead to poison birds, or humans who may harvest them, and is there a need to use special handling with the plants after they soak up the lead?

Same question about using switchgrass for phytoremediation - if we harvested this for biofuel would we just be moving the lead somewhere else (wastewater from processing the switchgrass, for example).

Worth finding the answers, as Spring will come, and Cleveland should have 1,000,000s of sunflowers this Summer, surrounded by switchgrass, and by Fall the soil will be that much safer.

Disrupt IT