Ky. weighing alternative fuel development

BOWLING GREEN — With gas prices on the rise, Kentucky is weighing how to make alternative fuels a reality.

State Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said advances in alternative fuels are "incremental but substantial nonetheless."

Givens, who was part of a state task force that a year ago made recommendations for biomass and biofuels development in Kentucky, said implementing the group's recommendations will take time.

"Those efforts were ongoing when fuel prices went down and will certainly be more in the spotlight now," Givens said. "It is going to take technology building on the past foundational research that folks have done."

The Bowling Green Daily News reports that state universities are doing much of the research, with some cooperation from energy production companies.

Tim Hughes, a policy analyst for the Governor's Office of Agriculture Policy, suggested that within a year, fuel will be produced from corn cobs and stover, the leaves and stalks of corn, for $2 a gallon. Hughes said the country has reached its threshold on the percentage of traditional corn-based ethanol needed.

"Now the emphasis is on biodiesel and ethanol made from non-food crops," he said.

The cobs and stover are a waste product from the food and corn-ethanol industry, Hughes said. If they can be used to produce a fuel at $2 a gallon, that would be considered fairly competitive, he said.

Givens said more research is needed to find the right enzymes that can digest cellulose products such as switchgrass, miscanthus and wood products to produce liquid fuels.

There is a miscanthus field in Logan and Simpson counties where farmer Don Halcomb and his son are working with Mendel Biotechnology to further that process.

And government standards will continue to be strengthened for fuel mixtures. Those complicated standards were published in the Federal Register in December. Givens said he still sees a need for traditional ethanol production because of those standards.

Alltech Inc. in August said it would buy a Winchester facility and begin production of algae-based fuel in the state. There are other efforts in the state looking at solar energy production.

And, the Governor's Office of Agriculture announced recently it was taking applications from farmers for projects that would produce energy, including such things as animal waste digesters that produce methane that can produce electricity.

The state, using tobacco settlement funds, may provide a 25 percent reimbursement, up to $10,000, for a qualified project.

Hughes said he continues to see opportunities for farmers in the energy production business. "Grain prices are historically high and agriculture is fairly profitable, so farmers aren't as interested in other options as they might have been 10 years ago when commodities were cheap," he said. "But we are going to need more energy and we can grow it locally. That produces jobs and reduces our dependence on foreign oil."