A research team in Thailand has managed to create ethanol from a form of aquatic weed called water hyacinth. Now it is looking for the necessary technology in order to transform the research project into a viable commercial proposition for broader development and marketing.
The hope is that the innovation will ultimately lead to lower costs for biofuel and help Thailand to reduce its vast imports of crude. Currently, the country relies heavily on costly crude oil imports, and its government is keen to boost its own energy security by finding greener sources of domestic power.
Thailand already moved rapidly into the biofuel energy with first-generation sugar cane planting for fuel purposes, but this led to land designed for food production being turned over to fuel production, causing rocketing food prices and broader social issues.
The humble water hyacinth is very common in Thailand and grows freely on its waterways. In fact, millions of tonnes of the water weed are dredged up and destroyed every year to prevent it from choking the country's rivers, canals and waterways.
As the plant is very fibrous and contains little carbohydrate, a chemical is added once the plant is ground in order to create a monosaccharide for onward transformation into ethanol. Currently, 1,000kg of plants are needed to produce 25 litres of fuel, so commercial development is needed in order to come up with a market-ready proposition and to create economies of scale.
Advanced technologies are also needed for the processing stage, but the research team behind the findings thinks that this exciting new form of weed-derived ethanol will be ready to progress commercially in a few years once interest from commercial investors is secured and the underpinning technologies have been refined and become more widely available.