- Written by Anna Strom
A new use of the cassava plant—a woody shrub grown in tropical or subtropical regions of the world—could mean an increase in the availability of food, while at the same time providing a new source of biofuel, whether solid, liquid or gaseous, a team of Swedish and Chinese researchers have found.
“Cassava stems have previously been overlooked in starch and energy production”, the researchers, of whom two of Bio4Energy, say in a study freshly published in the online version of Global Change Biology Bioenergy, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Today the cassava plant is extensively cultivated for its starchy tuberous root and is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize, according to online encyclopedias. Being drought tolerant by nature and capable of growing on marginal soils, it is a major food staple in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people. Countries like China have turned their interest to cassava for its suitability as a feedstock in bioethanol production.
However, because so many less well-to-do people rely on the cassava—alternatively called manioc, yuca, balinghoy, mogo, mandioca, kamoteng kahoy, tapioca or manioc root plant; depending on where in the world it is grown—biofuel making based on the cassava root could easily been seen as an example of one man’s food being turned into another man’s fuel. This week the European Parliament voted to prevent such displacement of food production, or of land used to grow food or feed, by capping the use of so-called first-generation biofuel in the EU at six per cent of its goal to have ten per cent of final energy use in automotive transport come from renewable sources by 2020.