Fuel your car with Sunflowers? Not that far fetched, we already use them in the production of biodeisel, and now scientists are looking into using this fast growing iconic flower to make Ethanol.
Certain woody species like the Silverleaf and Algodones dune sunflowers can grow up to 21 feet high and have the ability to produce a relatively large amount of cellulosic biomass, a perfect ingredient for the creation of Ethanol. The only problem is that these flowers are wild and would need to be domesticated if they were going to be used in efficient fuel production. University of Georgia scholar Steve Knapp is has plans to study the flowers over 40,000 genes in order to find ways to maximize the flower's ability to fuel our cars. I have mixed feelings about this...
First off I'm not a huge fan of Ethanol. I don't think we should rule it out because we need some pretty drastic changes and we need to consider everything that's on the table. The most important question I have is what kind of energy demands are we looking at to convert the Sunflowers to Ethanol? Without getting into a long debate over the merits of Ethanol, I would like to mention my other reservation.
Basically I'm not a huge fan of the idea of trying to solve our environmental problems by forcing even more unnatural solutions on the environment. Genetically engineering and altering an indigenous plant to make it suitable for mass production? It just doesn't sound like a good idea. These types of practices tend to cause a lot of problems down the road. While Sunflowers generally have less of a negative impact on the top soil than corn does, the full environmental implications are still in question. That being said it does seem like a decent alternative to corn, and even better, we use it along with a variety of other cellulose sources for a diverse base of Ethanol ingredients.
At the end of the day, this is an interesting concept and interesting research that we should keep an eye on.