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Thursday, November 13, 2008
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Potential of Water Hyacinth in Biofuel Production

INDIA - Farming a menacing weed may seem preposterous. But, a few years from now, farmers across the State may be cultivating water hyacinth, one of the most invasive and prolific aquatic weeds that threaten to devastate lakes, canals and ponds.

On the cards is a project to produce bioethanol out of the menacing weed that smothers water bodies, chokes other aquatic life, prevents navigation, provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, fosters water-borne diseases and even interferes with hydropower generation.

The Department of Life Sciences, Kannur University, has tied up with the Institute for Research and Development (IRD), Marseille, France, for the project that will convert water hyacinth into biofuel through a natural process, reports The Hindu. The Indo-French initiative will involve the identification of micro organisms that will produce enzymes to degrade the complex sugars or polysaccharides in the weed.

“Biochemical tests have revealed the potential of water hyacinth in the production of bioethanol, though not on a large scale,” said Christopher Augur of IRD.

“The presence of complex sugars like cellulose and hemicellulose in water hyacinth however inhibits fermentation. The project will seek to identify a fungal strain that will help to break down the polysaccharides into simple sugars through enzymatic action,” he told The Hindu.

“A decentralised production system would help local communities to generate revenue while getting rid of a menace,” Mr. Augur said. Abdulhameed Sabu, Kannur University, said: “Once the technology is developed, we propose to equip cooperatives or self-help groups to harvest and prepare the weeds for production of bio ethanol.” The project will be taken up under the Indo French centre for the Promotion of Advanced Research (IFCPAR).

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