Arizona Sun Grant Activities


Ephedra, also known as Mormon Tea

Given the tremendous diversity within the Western Region, research has emphasized those feedstocks and other crops uniquely appropriate for the region in terms of self-sufficiency and complementary to those of other regions.

One focus of Arizona’s Sun Grant-related work has been on the many unique crops and plants that thrive here. For example, many indigenous plants of the American Southwest have the capacity to survive in the hostile desert environment as well as high photosynthetic capacities. Both of these attributes contribute to the production and accumulation of large quantities of secondary plant compounds, some of which have commercial applications as specialty chemicals.

Acacia senegal, an African species which can be cultivated in the US Southwest is known to produce Gum Arabic which is used internally in treating inflammation of intestinal mucosa and externally to cover inflamed surfaces. Arizona researchers have found an Acacia species which grows well in the Arizona desert and produces a useful anticancer agent.

Another local species, Mormon tea (Ephedra), is a popular herbal supplement which grows in arid environments. Unlike the Chinese Ephedra, it does not contain ephedrine, and is therefore safe to use. There currently is a considerable market for Mormon tea in Utah and Colorado. Finally, Arizona researchers are also examining sweet sorghum as a potential feedstock for ethanol production.

In the News:

Department of Energy Announces $24 Million for Algal Biofuels Research

June 28, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the investment of up to $24 million for three research groups to tackle key hurdles in the commercialization of algae-based biofuels. The selections will support the development of a clean, sustainable transportation sector—a goal of the Department's continued effort to spur the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs. Developing cost-effective renewable transportation fuels is a key component of the Administration's strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move the nation toward energy independence.

"Partnerships such as these focus the creative powers of the public, private, and academic sectors on key challenges facing the development of renewable energy for transportation," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi. "The United States must find effective ways to hasten the development of technologies for advanced biofuels made from algae and other renewable resources to reduce our need for foreign sources of oil." Zoi made the announcement while speaking today at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2010 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.

The consortia consist of partners from academia, national laboratories, and private industries that are based across the country, broadening the geographic range and technical expertise of DOE partners in the area of algal biofuels. Projects are expected to continue for a period of three years. Together, they represent a diversified portfolio that will help accelerate algal biofuels development with the objective of significantly increasing production of affordable, high-quality algal biofuels that are environmentally and economically sustainable.

Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium (Mesa, Arizona): Led by Arizona State University, this consortium will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. Tasks include investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, and analyzing physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates. (DOE share: up to $6 million)