Biofuels by Susan Mittleman
The spike in gas prices a few months ago fueled a sense of urgency to find alternative energy sources. Though the price of gas has since dropped, the Obama Administration is still determined to reduce our dependency on foreign oil.
In our continuing series, Bio on My Mind, Susan Mittleman looks at some of the efforts underway here in Georgia, to find cleaner, greener energy solutions.
Forbes magazine recently ranked Georgia third best in the nation for alternative energy from biomass. Leading the state’s efforts to drive the economy with cleaner fuels is Jill Stuckey.
“What were looking for in Georgia is a renewable source, something we that can grow right here, so the money stays right here, it helps our economy, and it helps rural Georgia
As State Director of Alternative Fuels and Head of the Innovative Center for Energy, Stuckey’s been working to help Georgia become energy self-sufficient, using everything from wood pellets, to garbage to chicken litter. And there’s no better source of green energy here, she says, than our state’s 24-million acres of forest land.
“Georgia’s fortunate. We have a lot of biomass. We grow pine trees like Iowa grows corn. And it’s a renewable source of energy.”
Driving through South Georgia, watching the trees whiz by can be hypnotizing. But when you stop, at a place like Charlane Plantation outside of Macon, you get a greater sense of what our forests have to offer. This tranquil refuge of nature and wildlife is home to Rolling Stones keyboard player Chuck Leavell and his wife, and some 25-hundred acres of pine trees.
“This is our tree farm here.”
A passionate environmentalist, Leavell says these trees bring biodiversity, and opportunity, to help reduce our dependency on foreign oil.
“The fact that we have such a wonderful resource, our forest, and that we are looking for new markets, gives us a lot of hope to be able to use our trees to make energy products, whether its electricity or gasification or any matter of liquid fuels.”
In a generic warehouse down in Albany, John Tharpe is turning that hope into reality.
A semi- retired electrical engineer, Tharpe has built a machine that uses pine-tree chips to make bio-diesel, and runs completely on what would otherwise be forest waste. “We use biomass, we make either an oil, a char and then we are also looking now at making electrical energy. You can use it in any commercial burner, such as producing steam, boilers, those types of things.”
He plans to have 20 or more units up and running for commercial use by the end of the year . What’s already in commercial production is Corn Ethanol. In Camilla Georgia, First United Ethanol LLC, or FUEL, the largest plant of its kind in the state, is producing up to 110 million gallons of ethanol a year. Alicia Shier showed us around.
“What we’re producing is 200 proof alcohol. When it’s mixed with a natural gasoline, it becomes ethanol.”
The plant went on line in October, and the goal, says CEO Murray Campbell is to make fuel.
“We’re going to produce ethanol from corn now, because it works.”
As well as jobs.
“We’re creating jobs. we’re creating tax base, and the people that own this plant are stockholders all across this community.”
But the economic ripple effect could reach all across the state- since most gas now in Georgia contains some amount of Ethanol.
And according to Jill Stuckey, there’s much more ahead in Georgia’s bio-fuel development pipeline.
(Stuckey) “Over last three years, we’ve had over three billion dollars of announcements of alternative energy projects in state of Georgia.”
And that puts Stuckey on the road to reaching her energy goal: Grow it here, produce it her, use it — right here in Georgia.
For WABE News, I’m Susan Mittleman