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Research on Hazelnuts Might Reap Big Rewards

May 26–PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — If the folks at the Arbor Day Foundation go a little nutty talking about hazelnut trees, it’s because they just might be on the verge of producing a phenomenal hybrid.

Research by the foundation, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Rutgers State University of New Jersey and Oregon State is on track to develop a second-generation hazelnut hybrid with a variety of commercial benefits.

Tom Molnar, an assistant professor of plant biology at Rutgers, said the hybrid hazelnuts could be available for commercial planting within a decade or two.

“This program could take 15 or 20 years, but I know that we will have plants that can be produced for commercial use and be grown in a variety of climates,” Molnar said. “They will also be more sustainable than soybeans.”

Molnar had been working on hazelnut hybrids on his own for about 10 years before joining forces with UNL, Oregon State and the Arbor Day Foundation.

“The first step is to find one or two good plants and see how they do in a lot of different locations, from New Jersey to Nebraska, up into Minnesota and across the Northeast.”

Only the Wilmette Valley in Oregon grows commercially viable hazelnut trees in the United States. The Oregon growers produce 99 percent of the U.S. crop but meet only 3 percent to 5 percent of the world demand.

Determining the hybrid with the highest yield per acre would be next, he said.

Research has shown that the hazelnut tree can provide food for humans as well as livestock, that it has potential as a bio-fuel and is an easily sustainable crop that doesn’t require large amounts of energy to grow.

Doug Farrar, vice president of the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, stood on a wind-swept hill recently outside Plattsmouth as second generation hazelnut hybrids were planted on Horning State Farm, which is managed by the Nebraska Forest Service.

Farrar said hazelnuts produce twice as much oil as soybeans and have many cooking uses.

They produce a cooking oil, he said, that has a similar composition to extra virgin olive oil but without the fatty acids.

The hazelnut also has the potential to help solve energy problems because it has a dense shell that makes excellent fuel and, when burned, creates hydrogen that could be used for fuel cells in electric cars.

Not having to plant the crop every year is another factor in the hazelnut’s favor.

A producer doesn’t have to use the energy to till the soil, Farrar said.

“We have put a lot of time — over 10 years — into this project,” Farrar said. “We would not have put all this energy into the project if we did not believe it had great benefits for agriculture and the environment.”

The hope is that this and subsequent generations of hybrids will be hearty enough to withstand native diseases and Nebraska’s climate while producing hazelnuts in quantities suitable for commercial sale.

The challenge is to crossbreed those native hazelnut trees grown in Oregon with hardier eastern European varieties.

Scott Josiah, director of the Nebraska Forest Service, is in charge of about two acres of hazelnut hybrids at the Horning farm near Plattsmouth. Another 9 1/2 acres of hazelnuts are being grown at Arbor Farm and two more acres at UNL’s East Campus.

Josiah carefully monitors the various hybrids to determine which version can produce the biggest, best and most abundant nuts.

“Our first-generation hybrids are already doing very well in terms of survival,” Josiah said. “The thinking is that if they can survive in Nebraska, they can survive anywhere.”

Farrar said the Arbor Day Foundation is already receiving inquiries from farmers eager to plant hazelnut trees. More than 90,000 trees have been distributed to Arbor Day Foundation members to grow and observe.

“We don’t want to make any promises before we can deliver,” Farrar said, “but we feel strongly that it’s only a matter of time and we will have a new crop that can be grown even on less than the best soil and produce a wonderful product.”

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May 26, 2009 - 4:04 PM No Comments

New Report Shows Hydrogen Vehicles Will Drive Change

Washington DC–Today, the National Hydrogen Association released a new report called the “Energy Evolution:  An Analysis of Alternative Vehicles and Fuels to 2100.”  The Energy Evolution shows that a scenario which initially includes a mix of alternative vehicles, and is later dominated by hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles sales is the only way to simultaneously cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 80% below 1990 levels; reach petroleum quasi-independence by mid-century; and eliminate nearly all controllable air pollution by the end of the century.  The report also shows that an expansion of hydrogen stations is more affordable than most people think.

In all, the report compares more than 15 of the most promising fuel and vehicle alternatives over a 100-year period, using data and models to create scenarios where one fuel and vehicle alternative becomes dominant in the mix of vehicles over time. The scenarios evaluate the performance and viability of the 15+ alternatives in terms of greenhouse gases, oil imports, urban air pollution and societal costs.

A task force of experts conducted the “Energy Evolution” analysis under the leadership of Xcel Energy’s Frank Novacheck, with significant input from H2Gen Innovation’s Dr. Sandy Thomas.  To verify the objectivity of the methods and conclusions, experts from organizations such as the U.S Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Fuel Cell Council have reviewed the report.

Quite honestly, the results surprised even us, but the data speak for themselves. They show quantitatively why it is absolutely critical that we continue significant efforts make hydrogen vehicles and stations more widely available to consumers,” said Jeff Serfass, President of the National Hydrogen Association.

Most people forget that hydrogen technologies like fuel cells are compatible with the other alternatives.  For example, development of plug-in hybrid technology advances the development of the same electric drive technology used in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.  So the point we want to make today is that we need to work on all the best alternatives together, not one as a replacement for another.  And hydrogen is essential to get us to the desired environmental and energy endpoints.”

The task force assumed success for the various alternative vehicle technologies and fuels, including advancements in batteries, commercialization of non-corn biofuels, “greening” of the electric grid and increased efficiencies in conventional combustion engines.  These assumptions were made to fairly compare the hydrogen vehicle scenario to fully mature alternative technologies.  The conclusions of the “Energy Evolution” complement previous studies such as the National Research Council’s “Transitions to Alternative Transportation Technologies-A Focus on Hydrogen” and the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle and Station Deployment Plan: A Strategy for Meeting the Challenge Ahead.”
To obtain a copy of the full report or the four-page brief, visit:
http://www.hydrogenassociation.org/evolution

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May 2, 2009 - 4:47 PM Comments (3)