Michigan State University Professor Kurt Thelen is heading up a unique partnership with DaimlerChrysler, the Environmental Protection Agency and Detroit-based NextEnergy that is aimed at turning contaminated industrial waste sites into biofuel cropland.
Through the partnership, Thelen is farming two acres at a 110-acre former industrial waste dumpsite outside Detroit to see if crops can be grown for ethanol and biodiesel fuel production. His first crops of soybeans, corn, sunflower, canola and switchgrass will be tested for their potential to be refined into renewable fuels.
Thelen’s effort—called the Rose Township Project—could serve as a model for potential reuse of hundreds of Superfund and brownfield sites nationwide, according to the EPA. It endorsed the research under the agency’s “Return to Use” initiative, designed to encourage the reuse of Superfund sites.
“Bio-fuels represent a huge opportunity to reduce our nation’s consumption of petroleum,” said Deb Morrissett, vp-regulatory affairs for the Chrysler Group, U.S. subsidiary of Germany-based DaimlerChrysler. “This project could give us a homegrown solution to our energy, environmental and economic challenges, while also returning these contaminated lands to use.”
Waste haulers used the Rose Township site for the unauthorized disposal of oils, paint sledges and solvents in the late 1960s. More than 5,000 drums of waste were removed from the site between 1979 and 1986. While DaimlerChrysler wasn’t responsible for all of the pollution at the Rose Township site, it agreed to take over the cleanup project in 1988.Fuels produced from the crops grown via Thelen’s research will be tested at the National Biofuels Energy Laboratory located at NextEnergy Center, the headquarters of Michigan’s non-profit alternative energy business accelerator program, to see if they provide enough energy to be viable.