Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SW FL ready to lead in biofuel production

As the terrible, ongoing BP Deepwater Horizon spill painfully reminded us, we've played sorcerer's apprentice too long when it comes to fossil fuels. We've based our entire lifestyle around them, starting with coal during the Industrial Revolution, and getting addicted to cheap, plentiful oil in the 20th century.
This addiction has gone out of control. The environmental consequences are nothing short of catastrophic. Geopolitically, we're bogged down in long, costly wars that only the criminally naive believe are motivated by vagaries such as 'bringing democracy to the Arab world'. We are in bed with hostile, backward regimes, such as Saudi Arabia's or Nigeria's, because we need their light sweet crude. And above all, as the reality of Peak Oil becomes more and more apparent, we are realizing that hey, the stuff is running out anyway, and no amount of 'drill, baby, drill' is going to change that.
That's why it makes me so proud to see glimmers of the old American can-do spirit in local entrepreneurs Harold 'Lee' Crews and Susan MacFarlan, who are working hard to make our part of the world a leader in biofuels research and production.
A quick note to explain that biodiesels are different from ethanol in many respects. They are made from dedicated crops - thus, not competing with food crops such as corn or sugar cane - pressed rather than distilled, and their oils used on a wide range of diesel engines.
Lee and Susan, along with Extension Agent Roy Beckford and others, have been researching biofuel crops, including Jatropha Curcus, Pongamia Pinnata, Camelina, Canola, and others, for a long time, and are now moving out of the research phase and getting ready to go into production, as the $3M processing facility behind the State Farmers' Market on Edison proves.
In addition to the machinery and storage tanks there, you'll find rows of experimental crops in different stages of development. Local producers of organic fertilizers, like Bob Donnelly and Billy Sol, have teamed up with Lee and Susan to make the unthinkable happen: growing our own energy in an environmentally friendly fashion, locally, and processing it right here. Many area farmers are starting to dedicate part of their acreage to this project, as Lee Crews manages a difficult act - finding the funding for the facility, making sure the necessary crops will be there when we need them, exploring potential markets, and much more.
Lee Crews and Susan MacFarlane are in tune with the future, and are true visionaries that deserve our support. I encourage everyone who is 'mad as hell' at the BP spill to redirect their energies in a positive way - for example, by getting interested in what's going on with biofuel research right here and supporting Lee and Susan's work in any way you can, by volunteering, by helping them find local farmers to grow the stuff, by promoting them, by putting whatever skills you may have at their disposal.
Susan's website, Agri-Fuel Feedstocks, is here. Florida Department of Agriculture's website is here, or you can email Lee at crewsh@doacs.state.fl.us or call 239-332-6910. There's a few pictures of my visit to the facility here. I must thank these friends for taking the time to show me around, answer my questions, and even giving me some Jatropha plants to grow at my farm.