There’s Oil in Those Plants

  “Plants have all the genetic apparatus to make oils.


“Plants have all the genetic apparatus to make oils. It’s in their genomes.”

So said Stephen Long, University of Illinois crop sciences and Institute for Genomic Biology professor, shown here, among plants.


(Photo by Don Hamerman)

Professor Long, along with other University of Illinois, University of Florida, University of Nebraska, and Brookhaven National Laboratory researchers, with the support of a $3.2-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, are working to boost the capacity of sorghum and sugarcane to produce oils, triacylglycerols, which can be converted to diesel and jet fuel via the hydro-treatment process.

While turning plants into fuels is certainly nothing new, Professor Long said that sugarcane and sorghum are highly productive plants, capable of producing more than 10 times the amount of oil per acre than canola and soybean.

“Sorghum and sugarcane will grow on quite poor land, so this should be doable without competing with food-crop production,” Long said to U of I life sciences editor Diana Yates.

And a word about those plants in the picture: that’s a perennial grass, Miscanthus x giganteus. It is cold-weather tolerant compared with sugarcane, to which it is related. So they’re going to genetically introduce that cold tolerance into sugarcane, so that it can be grown in climes other than those that are hot.

As fuel prices continue to climb, work like this is immensely important for the transportation infrastructure.