Globe warming artichokes fuel Spanish power stations

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The Independent Online

Spain has pioneered a revolutionary way to get energy from genetically modified artichokes and plans to set up two artichoke-fuelled power plants.

Spain has pioneered a revolutionary way to get energy from genetically modified artichokes and plans to set up two artichoke-fuelled power plants.

These are not your common or garden (or restaurant) globe artichokes, eaten with melted butter or perhaps vinaigrette. These souped-up monsters, capable of heating and lighting a small town, are Cynara cardunculus, or cardoons. They are similar to the edible artichoke, grow to three metres with roots of seven metres. Each plant can produce seven harvests.

Farmers are being persuaded by EU subsidies and gifts of seeds to sow the prickly plants (cardoons are closely related to thistles) on abandoned soil in the northern towns of Villabilla de Burgos and Alcala de Gurrea. When dried, pulped and burned in special turbines, the resultant harvest will produce energy for 60,000 people.

Following 15 years of research, a pilot crop was sown last year. Results were uneven. "They grew to 70cm but because the seeds were spaced too widely, the woody trunks were too tough to be cut. What was worse, the crop was so sweet it was eaten by mice," said Javier Plaza, an agricultural technician at the proposed Burgos plant. Genetic engineering succeeded in producing a bitter variety that was repulsive to rodents.

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