2007 Industry Outlook
The corn ethanol craze will continue in 2007. But some scientists say the state may someday be able to produce all the ethanol it needs using homegrown biomass — from sugar cane to wood waste.
Incentives and research funding for alternative energy technology.
At the Port of Tampa, a company called Port Sutton EnviroFuels is set to break ground this year on the state's first ethanol plant. Located on a 22-acre site, the complex will import and mill 17 million bushels of corn a year from the Midwest, then distill it into 46 million gallons of ethanol. Port Sutton is part of a national boom in corn ethanol plants; 40 are under construction nationwide as Americans look to wean themselves from petroleum and reduce their contribution to global warming.
In addition, Florida trade officials are hot on importing corn ethanol from the state's largest trade partner, Brazil. Reducing the U.S. tariff on low-cost Brazilian corn ethanol, they say, would help negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact.
Though barely heard amid all the enthusiasm for corn-based ethanol, some Florida scientists are looking to other raw materials as a source for ethanol. Florida is so rich in homegrown biomass like sugar cane, forest products and the like that it's just a matter of time, they say, before those products are used to produce ethanol on a large scale. For example, Florida generates more wood waste than any other state -- including culled citrus trees, urban tree-trimming in south Florida and pine operations in north Florida.
WASTE CONVERSION: UF microbiologist Lonnie Ingram has genetically engineered bacteria that convert biomass into cellulosic ethanol.
University of Florida scientists say the state generates enough biomass to make between 7 billion to 12 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol each year. UF microbiologist Lonnie Ingram has patented a process that, in the lab, converts biomass into cellulosic ethanol using genetically engineered bacteria. This year, his team will build an ethanol-from-biomass research and demonstration plant. "It's the next step as we scale it up from the lab level to the pilot level to commercialization," says Mary Duryea, associate dean for research at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Port Sutton EnviroFuels President Bradley Krohn says corn -- along with grain sorghum and sweet sorghum, which also can be processed at his plant -- are the most commercially viable sources of ethanol for now. But there's "no doubt," he says, that cellulosic ethanol "is eventually going to get there."