By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
A biofuel company hopes plots of high-sugar “energy beets” will fuel an ethanol project.
Patriot Bioenergy Corporation, which has an office in Williamsburg, has more than 20 acres of energy beets growing throughout Whitley County.
According to Patriot’s CEO Roger Ford, the company would use natural gas to spark the process, which is like a distillery getting alcohol from sugar. But while ethanol is mainly based from corn in this country, Ford sees energy beets as a good substitute.
“They’re phasing out the ethanol corn subsidy in America, and after 30 years, it’s gone as far as it can go. Why energy beets? First, it’s been selectively bred as a crop. We hope to produce two crops a year. It’s such a high sugar yield crop, and we can get on average 800-1,500 gallons an acre. We’ll need less land to produce it in the spring and fall months. And second, there’s a longer timeline in harvesting it. Once it comes in, it will continue to grow. Processing the beets would use natural gas more efficiently than with corn. We’ll get sugar directly from the beets, and we won’t need an extra step to convert the starch from corn into sugar. So that process is removed, and you shorten the distillation time,” Ford said Friday in a phone interview from Pikeville.
Based in Pikeville, Patriot Bionergy also has an office in Lexington. They plan on using biomass to bring heat and power to operate the plant, which would also help in keeping costs down.
The name “biomass” may be new, but the sources have been around for centuries. Biomass is an organic matter that can be used to make fuels and other products, and can provide electricity or heat. One of the oldest and best examples of biomass is wood. Other biomass sources are plants, animal waste, organic compounds from industrial and municipal waste, and aquatic plants. More importantly, biomass can also be converted directly into liquid fuels, such as ethanol.
Ethanol is a major player in the operation of flex-fuel vehicles. Their engines can run on any gasoline mix that contains up to 85 percent ethanol. Ford and other advocates of ethanol say its use would be an attractive alternative to fluctuating gasoline prices, but would also snap America’s reliance on overseas oil, boost agriculture in this country, and bring several economic advantages in international trade.
“We have to think of the global impact. Anything we can do to lessen our dependence on foreign oil is a big help to our nation. We’ll never see cheap energy because it’s market-driven. But at least we’ll create American energy with American jobs,” noted Ford.
Patriot is also getting some help from another source, the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy. Long known as a center for fossil fuel research and identifying future technologies with a potential, Ford said CAER is presently studying a one-acre test plot of the energy beets in Whitley County.
“They’ve taken some samples of the crop there, and they’re very supportive on what we’re working on. They’ve done research on our project, and they give us feedback on what we’re doing.”
To build the ethanol plant, Patriot is eyeing is a 99-acre patch of land on Savoy Road in Williamsburg near the old concrete plant.
“It’s where the Cumberland River and Clear Creek converge. We would lease or acquire outright about 20-25 acres of that property. We would need a road leading to that plot of land, which was intended for use as an industrial park. We were hoping to get the road funded in the recent state budget, but that didn’t go through. So we’re now looking at getting state economic development incentives. We’re working with the city of Williamsburg and Whitley County on that. The state’s been supportive, and that’s a big step in the right direction,” Ford said.
He added the road would handle tractor-trailers hauling in beet root stock and haul out ethanol to clients and consumers. To fuel the plant, energy beets would be grown from some 6,000 acres of leased farmland around a 90-mile radius of the Williamsburg plant.
Ford called the plant “Phase One,” and said once the ethanol-from-energy beets are produced, Patriot’s plans are to build a power plant on the ethanol plant site, using a co-generation of natural gas and biomass. In time, Patriot would construct biomass power plants, and sell electricity to utility companies.
“That would be Phase two. We could go as low as five megawatt facilities, but we’re looking at 10-15 megawatt plants,” Ford pointed out.
He mentioned the planned plant has support from both Williamsburg and Whitley County officials. An announcement on the project was originally expected last Tuesday before U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s visit to the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport, but was postponed until next month. Ford said Patriot and the governments are looking forward to the next step.
“We’re working on a letter of intent with the city and county on this project. That will be announced in August.”
Plans are to use crop for energy source
By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
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