Chrysler has teamed up with Purdue researchers in a project to use transgenic poplar trees to eliminate pollutants from a contaminated former oil storage facility near Kokomo, IN. They expect to plant the trees this summer.
In a study published last October, co-author and Purdue associate professor Richard Meilan wrote that transgenic poplar cuttings removed 90 percent of the TCE within a hydroponic solution in one week and metabolized the chemical 100 times faster than unaltered hybrid poplars. Meilan thinks the transgenic poplars can remove the TCE from the Kokomo site, which was contaminated by tainted oil stored there in the 1960s. The chemical lies within 10 feet of the surface, making it accessible to poplar roots.
Besides their use in pollution removal, poplars have promise as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. To investigate their potential in this area, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $1.3 million grant to Meilan and two colleagues.