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Sunflowers

Geneticist Jerry Miller (left) and technician Dale Rehder pollinate sunflowers to develop new inbred lines that produce oil in the mid-oleic range.

Bruce Fritz/USDA

Sunflowers are big and beautiful, and baseball players love to chew the seeds. Those seeds are rich in oil, which makes the sunflower a popular biofuel crop. Refineries process the oil into biodiesel, or use the plant waste as biomass, which can fuel factories and power plants. According to the National Sunflower Association, 1 acre (.4 hectares) of sunflowers can produce 600 pounds (272.1 kilograms) of oil [source: National Sunflower Association].

Sunflowers are big business in Dove Creek, Colo. Many farmers began planting acres of sunflowers a few years ago turning the flowers' oil into biodiesel to power their farm equipment. By 2008, thousands of acres around the town were yellow with sunflowers. Farmers sold some of the seeds to a bioenergy company that turned the oilseed into biofuel and pressed the flowers' plant waste into tiny fuel pellets. Workers converted the pellets into gas, which the company used to fuel its electric generator [source: Burke].

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