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Oklahoma teen uses kudzu to make biofuel

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Forget corn or switchgrass. A Grove High School senior might have the answer to cutting prices at the pump: kudzu!

Lindsay Marie Stewart, 18, posited using the plant invasive throughout the Southeast as a biofuel source at the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this month in Atlanta.

"It would give (landowners) a way of getting rid of what we have already," she said, in a story reported online by live blogger Laura Vanderkam.

The "terror" of a vine covers 8 million acres, according to the post.

As part of her project, Stewart studied whether the plant's leaves, stems or roots produced the most glucose through experiments.

"She figured the roots would produce the most glucose, but actually the stems did," Vanderkam noted. "So like a good future scientist, she reported here that her hypothesis was rejected."

Stewart has been studying the species since attending space camp in Alabama as an eight-grader. At one point she looked into whether kudzu is effective at nitrogen fixation, in which nitrogen in the atmosphere turns into a kind usable by plants. Nope. Go figure!

As for whether her biofuel theory might ever be tested on a grand scale, CFN intern Bucky wonders. The sponsor of the fair's "Energy & Transportation" pavilion? Shell Oil.

Stewart was among 1,500 high schoolers participating in the science fair, which, according to Vanderkam, familiarly sported "booths with trifold placards, lots of grainy shots of gloved hands pouring liquid into containers and elaborate
contraptions."

But, she also noted, "There are no erupting vinegar volcanoes, and the questions asked are actually pertinent to current science questions." Including, she wrote, an exhibit on "Making Methane," which addressed "whether horse or turkey crap produces the most biogas." Awesome. 

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