Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Taking Root Scientists Testing Gourds as Source of Cooking Fuel

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Taking Root Scientists Testing Gourds as Source of Cooking Fuel

Article excerpt

Root fuel, an "energy crop" discovered by Washington University scientists, is coming home.

The slow-burning root of a common U.S. and Mexican desert gourd has been tested for five years in several poor countries around the world as a cooking fuel and a way to slow deforestation. Toward a similar goal, St. Louis scientists are now testing it on a Navajo Indian Reservation of the Southwest.

"It's nice to be able to travel around the world and look for opportunities to help people in Latin America, Africa and Asia," said Eugene Shultz, engineering professor at the university. "It's especially gratifying to help here in the United States."

A decade ago, Shultz discovered that the gourd's sun-dried roots burn much more cleanly and efficiently than the wood burned in simple cooking stoves and fireplaces popular throughout the developing world.

The white, carrot-like roots come from a plant known in the Southwest as the buffalo gourd.

On Sunday, Shultz and his colleague Wayne Bragg inspected a test plot on the reservation near Ojo Amarillo, N.M., where they planted buffalo gourd last spring. Bragg, formerly with the university, now works for Enable International Inc., a humanitarian organization in Wheaton, Ill.

"The crop looks just fantastic," Shultz said in a telephone interview.

The fuel could help solve a major health problem on the reservation - respiratory diseases apparently caused by breathing the smoke from indoor heating and cooking fires using wood and charcoal. Women and children are especially vulnerable.

"Our goal here is to supply a fuel that is not dangerous to health," he said. "There's not much you can do about wood fuel smoke. But root fuel, if you know how to burn it, can burn with very little smoke."

Shultz is quick to point out that the root is not a magic bullet. It's still at an early, basic research stage - and the idea could be undercut easily by some unforeseen weakness to drought, insects or other enemies. …

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