Hug a Cactus? Yep, They Could Soon Provide Clean Fuel for Your Car

Cacti may change the biofuel game.

If you had to guess what plant (other than corn or sugar) could power cars with a clean fuel source, what would you guess? I’ll save you some pondering time and come out and say it: it’s the cactus. Yes, those prickly plants could become the world’s next powerhouse biofuel.

According to Grist, this is welcome news because cacti are cheap to grow and drought tolerant. Corn and sugarcane, other plants used for biofuel, haven’t proven to be environmentally friendly (they both use a lot of farmland space — not cool, considering they also can be eaten).

Cacti, specifically prickly pear cacti, however, excel at staying alive in incredibly dry climates where people don’t farm. The news about cactis’ cool secret was published in detail at Chemistry World, “[R]esearchers from the University of Oxford, Tropical Power, Imperial College London and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, say that CAM species like Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear) and Euphorbia tirucallli could make a huge contribution to sustainable biogas production.”

The work was led by Mike Mason, a bioenergy entrepreneur. Mason says that “electricity production from biogas is incredibly flexible” — ” ‘you can bring it up or down as demand goes up and down. The problem is that there isn’t much resource to turn into biogas and it’s horribly expensive.’ ” And that’s why it’s so great that CAM plants could change the alternative gas game.

“Mason estimates that it would take between 4 percent and 12 percent of available semi-arid land to generate 5PWh of electricity per year, equivalent to that generated from natural gas. The products of anaerobic digestion, nutrient rich wastewater and solid digestate, can be re-used for irrigation or as fertilisers. The wastewater could also be used for highly productive forms of aquaculture – potentially increasing food production from land growing biofuels instead of decreasing it,” Chemistry World reports.

Does this news excite you as much as it does us? Enough to hug a cactus?

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Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.