USDA-ARS scientists at the University of Minnesota are working to make alfalfa more suitable for ethanol production, and possibly a source of plastic, too.

Their plan is to make alfalfa a dual-use crop, with the stems being turned into ethanol, and the leaves into plastic, other industrial products or better livestock feed.

Plant breeder JoAnn Lamb has developed alfalfas with thick stems that will provide more raw material for ethanol production. And animal scientist Hans Jung will develop tests to screen alfalfa plants to find those with the most sugar, starch and digestible fiber in their stems. In addition, a biochemist/geneticist will be hired to find genes that further improve the stems' conversion to ethanol.

Plant pathologist Deborah Samac has transformed alfalfa so it can be used to manufacture plastic. The process isn't practical yet, but the research is continuing.