Background

The quest for sustainable production of biomass and renewable fuels with low carbon footprints has become a global priority. They are needed to produce food and nutrition for an estimated 9 billion people on this planet by 2050. Also, the expected decline in fossil fuel production and the need to curb climate change are urgent issues facing humanity in this decade. Creating and adopting new biomass and fuel production platforms that are environmentally and economically sustainable will be essential, but pose a formidable challenge to scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

In our consideration of alternative sources of renewable biomass that can be "domesticated" for energy production as well as other products, we believe the Lemnaceae family of aquatic plants, commonly called duckweed, holds great potential as a commercially viable feedstock for fuel and feed production driven by sunlight. The chief characteristics that make duckweed ideal for waste-to-energy conversion are their rapid growth rate (up to 120 ton dry mass/hectare/yr) and their ability to grow directly on existing wastewater sites. Importantly, their natural growth characteristics also provide simple harvest strategies. Together with low lignin content and a large surface area to body mass ratio, duckweed provides a promising platform for sustainable biomass production coupled to reclamation of wastewater from different sources. To accelerate development of new businesses and products that are based on these aquatic plants as a novel micro-crop, we are organizing an international workshop with the aim to bring researchers and entrepreneurs together for sharing of information and networking for project development. These efforts will leverage and extend the traditional use of duckweed for plant systematics and biomonitoring of environmental contaminants.

Several recent advances in this field should make this conference extremely timely, such as: 1) Quantification of the potential of duckweed for bioethanol and biomass production in pilot scale studies, 2) Completion of the first reference genome of the Greater Duckweed Spirodela polyrhiza, 3) Formation of the International Lemna Association as a nascent grassroots effort to promote the advancements of duckweed- related applications and public awareness, and 4) Recent recognition of duckweed as an additional "feedstock" crop in a proposed tax relief bill by the U.S. government, which signals the emerging acceptance and promotion of the duckweed industry.