Reaching Critical [Bio]Mass
UF microbiologist Lonnie Ingram developed a process to convert leftover wood from logging into fuel and biodegradable plastic.
The Green Circle Bio Energy plant, owned by a Swedish company, has been operating for more than a year in Cottondale in Jackson County, producing wood pellets at the rate of 500,000 tons a year. The pellets are shipped to Europe, where they’re burned along with coal in power plants. Fueling demand for the pellets are European Union rules requiring countries to generate 20% of their electricity from renewable sources.
Two more plants that use biomass are now slated to be built in the region:
- The University of Florida will build an experimental ethanol plant at the site of Buckeye Florida pulp mill near Perry in Taylor County to convert leftover wood from logging into fuel and biodegradable plastic. The process, developed by UF microbiologist Lonnie Ingram, has aroused concern over its use of E. coli bacteria, though genetically modified, to convert plant material into ethanol. The plant had been slated for Palm Beach County, near Florida Crystals’ Okeelanta mill. UF and Florida Crystals decided the plant wasn’t feasible at that site after a partnership of the Verenium Corp., BP and the Lykes Brothers began moving to build a plant with similar technology in nearby Highlands County. In addition, a Florida Crystals spokesman told the Palm Beach Post that the $20 million appropriated by the Legislature for the demonstration plant was proving to be insufficient to build the facility. The Perry plant will be smaller than anticipated and use a wider range of feedstocks.
- A $200-million electrical generating plant that was to be built in Tallahassee will now be built in Port St. Joe. The Northwest Florida Renewable Energy Center, owned and operated by the Georgia-based Biomass Gas and Electric Co., will gasify some 735 tons of wood waste a day to generate about 42 megawatts of power after its completion, estimated for sometime in 2011. The plant became a political casualty in Tallahassee after objections from neighborhood groups about possible pollution and after criticism involving FSU’s connection to the project.
Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell’s wife, Virginia, has an ownership stake in BG&E, which had a deal to build the plant on land owned by FSU. BG&E expects to complete the plant by early 2012. Florida Progress has agreed to purchase the electricity it generates.