Peanuts, pine trees and sweet Georgia peaches touted as future fuel sources

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Part-time farmer Jimmy Griner arrived at the Georgia Bioenergy Conference carrying a quart of ever-so-fragrant, crystal-clear, 180-proof moonshine in a Mason jar.

He’s licensed to make 10,000 gallons a year and hopes the potent liquid can help solve the nation’s energy problems.

At the very least, a few swigs of the high-octane elixir distilled from fermented Georgia-grown wheat could make some people oblivious to the record-high fuel prices hitting Americans in the pocketbook.

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Sponsored by the University of Georgia, the three-day conference attracted about 500 farmers, scientists, engineers and politicians.

Speakers from all over the United States and at least one foreign nation, Brazil, discussed the future of global energy supplies, the economics of biofuels, energy legislation and Georgia products that could be converted into fuels.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said promoting alternative fuels is “a significant step” toward important goals.

“First, we are ensuring long-term fuel stability, and reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil,” he said. “If we can grow our own fuel, why would we purchase it from dictators, or from countries who have pledged support for terrorist regimes?

“These initiatives add value to our farmers’ crops,” he added. “They will generate renewed interest and increased demand in agriculture.”

Perdue said Georgia already has a few bioenergy companies that produced more than 3 million gallons of ethanol and biodiesel last year, most of it shipped out of state.

Plans are under way to build a $132 million plant in Camilla that would produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year from corn. Another company is considering a $150 million to $200 million plant in south Georgia that would make 50 million gallons of ethanol annually from the cellulose in wood.

Perdue said the state has supported alternative fuels by providing nearly $1 million to fund a biorefinery at the University of Georgia in Athens and research at Georgia Tech to convert pine cellulose to ethanol.

In addition, the state is working on a comprehensive energy strategy that should be completed by December, and Georgians eventually will have a “roadmap” of affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy sources, he said.

With almost 25 million of Georgia’s 37 million acres covered with forests, there’s a big push to produce ethanol from pine trees. Experts say the technology for doing it on a commercial scale is still years away.

The state already generates 18 million dry tons of waste wood each year, including limbs and tree tops, Georgia Forestry Commission director Ken Stewart said. The amount of ethanol available from the waste wood alone — 80 gallons per ton — would be enough to replace 18 percent of the gasoline and diesel fuels consumed in the state each year, he said.

After his speech, the governor toured an outdoor display of tractors and trucks powered by ethanol made from Georgia-grown peaches, wheat and pine trees and others powered by biodiesel made from chicken fat, peanuts, cotton seeds and soybeans.

Standing beside a large sedan powered by a blend of gasoline and his white lightning, Griner greeted the governor, unscrewed the lid and gave the governor a whiff.

“It’s the real deal,” Perdue said with a smile.

“I have a license to make it,” said Griner, 70, a retired college physics professor who has a small farm in south Georgia’s Berrien County.

“I’m going to tell the revenue department to leave you alone,” Perdue said.