Kudzu could be da vine
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Doug Mizell - Download MP3- By Randall Higgins
CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- "The vine that ate the South" might some day fuel the Dynamo of Dixie.
Doug Mizell thinks so.
Using "Moonshine 101," he turned a pile of smashed kudzu into a batch of ethanol. He calls it "kudzunol."
Mr. Mizell has a long and turbulent history with kudzu. Since 1999 he has battled it on Lake Enid, Miss., vacation property. Like any Southerner who took on that fight in the past hundred years, he lost.
The Kudzu vine, which was introduced into this country in 1876, can grow up to 60 feet a year, smothers other plants, and has claimed an estimated 7 million acres of land in the southeastern United States, according to .
Mr. Mizell, a locksmith who has spent most of his 54 years tinkering, was not about to throw in the towel in his fight, not into a patch of weeds anyway.
Kudzu is a plant. It's full of natural sugars just like corn. It thrives in the South. So, what if you distilled the stuff?
On a Cleveland hillside, Mr. Mizell and wife, Sue, harvested lots of kudzu.
"Oh, yes, we got some strange looks," his wife admitted.
The vines went into a chipper and then home and into a food processor. Then "Moonshine 101" came in. Mr. Mizell rigged a still on his mother's patio. The resulting 80-proof liquid, he said, smells like rum.
Five gallons of kudzu mash equals a half gallon of ethanol. But Mr. Mizell thinks he can improve the yield with some better equipment.
"That thing over there," he pointed to the still, "is much like the African Queen, leaking and belching steam."
While kudzunol might be a green fuel for internal combustion engines, foresters view green kudzu as an indicator of insufficient fuel for wildfires.
"When the kudzu gets green, that's the end of fire season," said Steve Blackwell, chief ranger of Dade and Walker counties for the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Mr. Blackwell said that when the frost kills the kudzu in the winter, fire season starts.
Just as computer chips made Silicon Valley in California, Mr. Mizell figures the smothering vine can turn East Tennessee into Cellulose Valley and help keep corn in the food chain.
He and business partner Tom Monahan attended the state's first BioTenn Conference earlier this year. Now that he has proven kudzu can become ethanol, Mr. Mizell is looking for a grant, or an investor, to build a more sophisticated distillery.
"With a brush cutter, a wood chipper and a homemade still I can produce a barrel of fuel for under $80."
Mr. Mizell said it seems to him that a "state-of-the-art industry of American ethanol refineries" ought to be able to out-produce the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries "in no time at all."
On Friday, Mr. Mizell poured kudzunol into a lawnmower gas tank, along with a few drops of gasoline to prime the engine, and pulled the starter cord. It purred right away.
Now he would like to put a "test vehicle" on the streets, he said.
In the long battle of the Mississippi kudzu, Mr. Mizell came to the conclusion that "the only people who seemed to like it is goats."
Chattanooga, after all, made news by turning goats loose to clean out a kudzu patch.
If Tennessee Agro*Gas Industries (the company Mr. Mizell and Mr. Monahan have started for their kudzunol) has any say about it, kudzu is not just for goats anymore.
Mr. Mizell already is thinking beyond kudzu.
What about those watermelon vines?