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Giant reed a giant danger to environment
Updated: 04:34, Thursday November 19, 2009
The government is being warned not to play with fire by promoting the use of an invasive weed to produce biofuel.
Biologist and project officer with the invasive species council, Tim Low, will warn of the potential dangers of cultivating the species Giant Reed (Arundo donax) in a speech to a biosecurity conference in Canberra on Thursday.
The giant reed is a member of the grass family and looks similar to sugar cane or bamboo.
The reed is one of the fastest growing plants on earth and during peak conditions is capable of growing as much as 10cm per day.
The speed at which it grows allows it to overcome native plants very quickly and has led to it being declared a noxious weed in a number of countries including some parts of Australia.
'The state of California spends many millions of dollars controlling giant reed, but in Australia, taxpayers' money is being used to promote it as biofuel,' Mr Low will tell the conference.
The reed is just one of the candidates for what is known as a second-generation biofuel, where the whole plant is used to produce fuel rather than just the seeds.
The traits that make the reed attractive as a second-generation biofuel crop, being fast growing and low maintenance, also make it an incredibly invasive weed.
Mr Low warns that the Rural Industries Research Development Corporation and the South Australian government may be misguided in the belief that with regulation the reed can be grown safely.
The two bodies are running a trial of the reed.
'Your talking about high-volume, low-value crops. To factor into that a high-regulatory regime you are going to need weed officers monitoring, weed teams mopping up infestations, and the economics aren't going to pay for it,' he said.
'For biofuels to make a difference to climate change, vast plantings will be needed, and it is naive to believe a weed can be grown on a mass scale without it doing what weeds always do,' he said.
A report conducted by the Invasive Species Council, The Weedy Truth About Biofuels, concluded most of the plants being considered for producing fuel are serious weeds with the potential to do more harm than good.
'Concerns about climate change should not be allowed to override concerns about invasive species,' Mr Low said.
'The federal environment department should be taking a leadership role in ensuring that environmental risks are considered before the hype about new economic opportunities takes hold.'