CORBIN — A biofuel company in Eastern Kentucky plans to build an ethanol plant that would use energy beets as fuel instead of corn.
The Times-Tribune has reported that Patriot Bioenergy Corp. in Pikeville has more than 20 acres of energy beets growing in Whitley County, and CEO Roger Ford said the company would use natural gas to spark the process to glean fuel from the produce. Ford likened it to a distillery getting alcohol from sugar.
Ethanol in the United States is usually corn-based, but Ford said the energy beet is 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," Ford said. "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 to 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," he said. "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 Patriot is considering a 99-acre plot in Williamsburg for the plant.
Ethanol is used in flex-fuel vehicles, which have engines that can run on any gasoline mix that contains as much as 85 percent ethanol.
Ford said more reliance on ethanol would mean less on oil, which is mostly shipped from overseas.
"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," he said.
The company is getting help from the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy, which is studying a plot of energy beets in Whitley County.