Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Regulation recommendations so that biofuel plants don't become weeds

27.03.2013
In the United States, only species listed on state or federal noxious weed lists are regulated, and those lists are often biased toward species that affect agricultural crops. Conversely, invasive plant council lists include species that affect natural landscapes but have no regulatory clout.

After comparing the lists and how they are created, researchers at the University of Illinois's Energy Biosciences Institute have developed some suggestions on how to improve the regulation of all invasive plant species, including new biofuels plants.

"We're hoping to reform the way that the lists are developed," said U of I invasive plant ecologist Lauren Quinn. "State Departments of Agriculture usually put those lists together. We'd like to see greater representation from other stakeholders, such as Departments of Natural Resources or Transportation, which deal with invasive species in rights-of-way. We'd also like a council of invasive species experts to advise the groups that are creating the lists so that the process is science based," she said.

Quinn said that a more transparent listing process would be based on a scientific process developed by the USDA known as the weed risk assessment. "The process is a way of looking at the potential invasiveness of a new species," she said. "That potential is largely based on whether they're invasive elsewhere. It was originally developed in Australia where they have a very rigorous quarantine system. The process has recently been modified and updated by the USDA, and we are recommending that regulatory lists be reformed using the new system," Quinn said.

Using the system, the invasive species council in each state would assess the plants that are currently on the list and any plants that are petitioned to be on the list and rank them according to their potential invasiveness. "High-risk species would be regulated on a new noxious list, but low-risk species would not be regulated," Quinn said. "Species for which insufficient data is available for the assessment would be placed on a 'caution' list that would demand further investigation prior to release."

Quinn and her team recommend that field trials be done on "caution" list species before they're released into the environment. The team also proposes a negligence-liability scheme in case the plant turns out to be invasive.

"Right now, even if you know that a plant is highly invasive, you can plant it or sell it and there are no consequences at all, unless it's on the noxious weed list," said U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres. "Most of the regulation is directed exclusively at what might impact agriculture, but horticulturalists are developing new plants for home landscaping that might well be highly invasive. For economic reasons, the horticultural industry has a strong incentive to keep these new plants off of the noxious weed list when some varieties really they should be regulated," he said.

Quinn first noticed the discrepancies in the regulated noxious weed lists and the nonregulated invasive plant lists while working in California. "Some of the really important invasive plants that impact natural areas in California were not on the noxious list. That seemed strange to me. Why would you put together this list but not include the species that really mattered? For some really problematic plants like yellow star thistle, landowners are not required to do anything. It made no sense to me," Quinn said.

In comparing the lists from all 50 states, the researchers found that Montana has a noxious weeds law that is well enforced. "If a noxious weed is found on private property, it's the responsibility of the landowner to eradicate it," Quinn said.

As for the other states, Connecticut and Massachusetts came out on top. "They're listening to their invasive species council," Quinn said. "Other states have an invasive species council in place, but they're not very active or they're not being consulted."

Illinois and the other states in the Midwest are not doing a good job in terms of identifying invasive plants and consolidating them on one list, she said.

Quinn said that they hope to bring awareness to the discrepancies between the two lists, and ideally to reform those lists so that plant species that are invasive in natural areas are included. "There isn't a lot of protection for natural areas against invasive species despite the fact that there is an executive order requiring federal agencies to prevent and control invasive species. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of enforcement," Quinn said.

Quinn's job at the University of Illinois's Energy Biosciences Institute has been to investigate the potential for invasiveness in new non-native crops that are being developed for biofuels. "I've been looking at how they are likely to disperse in the environment and whether they are able to establish in areas outside of cultivation," she said.

Will the team's recommendations threaten the development of new biofuels crops? Endres said no, that the recommendations offer protection for the industry rather than punishment.

"The biggest threat to the biofuels industry is unsubstantiated accusations whether they relate to greenhouse gas savings or individuals claiming that new biomass varieties will all be invasive species," Endres said. "And to the extent that the industry has a solid regulation that governs it, it creates certainty within the industry, which then allows them to invest the billions of dollars it's going to take to do this.

"But when you have regulatory uncertainty, with 50 states each doing their own thing, those are barriers to the expansion of the industry," Endres said. "The big developers, who are responsible players in the industry, would be in favor of this regulation as long as it's science based and legitimate. They don't want individuals to be able to go to their local weed commissioner and complain 'my neighbor is going to plant Miscanthus and I heard on the Internet somewhere that it's invasive,' and it gets added to the state's noxious weed list. That's not a good way to do business and to develop a new industrial model."

Endres said that developers also do not want to spend a lot of money to commercialize a biofuels plant that's going to cause trouble later on—they want to do that analysis beforehand and decide which plants to invest more money into.

Quinn said, "We want to encourage developers to commercialize only those species that will carry a low risk of invasion. During their research and development phase, they would petition the invasive species council to do the weed risk assessment on the plant that they're proposing. If it's not high risk, then they can do field trials to rule out invasiveness. This due diligence not only protects the environment but also protects developers from potential losses due to findings of negligence down the road. Our plan gives them an opportunity to develop something safe early in the process," she said.

Quinn said that biofuels crops such as Miscanthus would be subject to the list. The current cultivars that are being sold for production are sterile, but new hybrids that are being developed are fertile, so Quinn said there could be the potential for confusion.

"We want to shift developers' incentives to make sure that they're doing an assessment of the invasiveness before they go too far down the development stage and we have another kudzu on our hands," Endres said.

Quinn, who is a postdoctoral research associate at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois, conducted the research along with James McCubbins and A. Bryan Endres, both U of I attorneys who specialize in agricultural law, and Jacob Barney, a weed scientist at Virginia Tech.

"Navigating the 'Noxious' and 'Invasive' Regulatory Landscape: Suggestions for Improved Regulation" was published in the February issue of Biosciences. The research was funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute.

The Energy Biosciences Institute, funded by the energy company BP, is a research collaboration that includes the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It is dedicated to applying the biological sciences to the challenges of producing sustainable, renewable energy for the world.

Debra Levey Larson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli
26.04.2017 | University of the Basque Country

nachricht New data unearths pesticide peril in beehives
21.04.2017 | Cornell University

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>