Doreen Hemlock and Jaideep Hardikar of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published an interesting report over the weekend about biofuel projects in South Florida, and in particular, the potential jatropha has in the area.
The neatly planted rows of jatropha trees in Delray Beach are sprouting round, green fruit that can be crushed into oil to run diesel engines.
Teri Gevinson founder of Ag-Oil LLC, foresees a day when South Florida farms like hers grow 10,000 acres of jatropha, enough to make 15 million gallons a year of oil.
But like many biofuels projects, her dream depends on obtaining millions of dollars for a state-of-the-art processing plant ¡V money hard to find in the current credit crunch.
Gov. Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama both tout renewable energy ¡V including biofuels ¡V as vital to stem U.S. dependence on foreign petroleum, reduce carbon emissions and create “green” jobs.
Yet scores of promising projects remain in early stages and face uncertain futures, experts say, unless the government, venture capitalists and others loosen purse strings soon.
“Renewable energy should be leading the way out of this recession, but it’s not ¡V because investors are not investing,” said Sean O’Hanlon, who runs the Miami-based trade group American Biofuels Council.
Adds Jim Lane, editor of Miami-based BiofuelsDigest.com: “There’s always been a gulf between obtaining venture capital and project finance. Now, it’s an ocean.”
Gevinson, a 38-year-old Boca Raton real estate developer, started her 40-acre jatropha test farm in January on her own land, investing about $200,000 so far.
Struggling vegetable farmers had given up a lease on the property, unable to make ends meet.
This spring, she earned a $2.5 million Florida grant that she hopes to use for equipment to harvest and crush jatropha. She also is seeking $25 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, mainly for a processing plant that would use the latest algae technology to boost jatropha oil yields and make the project profitable long-term.
The Energy Department is offering more than $700 million in stimulus funds for biofuels, but so far, approvals have been slow. That’s partly because the Department has too few staff to study the complex deals, pick viable ones and divvy up funds, said Dennis Dolan Crook, a Fort Lauderdale-based executive with biofuels firm Interex Global.
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