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Biomass Appeal

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."

Nuclear Progress

Progress Energy has powered up plans for a second nuclear power plant in Florida, in Levy County on the sparsely populated north-central Gulf coast. The 3,000-acre site is about seven miles from the Gulf of Mexico and eight miles north of the company's Crystal River nuclear plant. Site selection is not a decision to build, says Progress Energy Florida President and CEO Jeffrey Lyash; that decision is still a year or so away. "But it is a critical step in ensuring that nuclear power remains open and viable for future years," he says.

Progress Energy Florida serves 1.6 million customers statewide and is growing 2% to 3% a year. In the next decade, the company expects demand to increase 25%. Lyash says while Progress is investing millions, along with state and federal government partners, in alternative energy such as hydrogen fuel-cells and solar, Florida's growth demands that it also plan reliable generating capacity, including nuclear and coal plants.
If plans are approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, clearing and construction could begin as early as 2010, and a new plant could be online around 2016.

CROP-FUELED: Biomass' power plant will run on a bamboo-type of crop called e-grass.

Company to Watch

Biomass Investment Group Inc.
Gulf Breeze

Biomass Investment has received approval from the Florida Public Service Commission to proceed with plans to build a biomass power plant in central Florida. Fueled with a fast-growing bamboo-type crop called Arundo donax, also known as giant reed or e-grass, it would be the world's first commercial biomass plant that uses crops grown on site.

It would generate about 130,000 kilowatts, or enough to power 83,000 homes. Progress Energy has signed a 25-year contract with the company to buy electricity generated at the plant. The Florida Native Plant Society opposes the plans to raise giant reed because of its invasive characteristics and negative impact on native plants.

Power Supply

Where Floridians get their electricity

  • 33 municipally owned electric utilities
  • 18 rural electric cooperatives
  • 5 investor-owned electric utilities: Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power Co., Florida Public Utilities Co.

Drilling the Gulf

What a difference a war in Iraq and steep gas prices make. Florida residents, businesspeople and politicians long opposed oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. But last month, with bipartisan support of Florida lawmakers and public opinion running in favor, Congress opened 8.3 million acres of the Gulf to oil and gas exploration.The region holds some 1.3 billion barrels of oil.

Florida's Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson helped craft the compromise, which establishes a no-drill zone 125 miles from the Panhandle and 235 miles from Florida's west coast.

"It was not what we wanted by a long, long, long shot, but it's a baby step in the right direction," says David Mica, director of the Florida Petroleum Council.

Environmentalist fear the step could lead to more drilling in the Gulf, such as the natural-gas-rich Destin Dome off Pensacola. "Long term, we need to look at some of the resource-rich, closer-in areas," Mica says.