Florida becomes biofuels start-up incubator

By Kris Bevill | September 15, 2009
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist touted his state's investment in biofuels and renewable energy development during his speech to attendees at the 2009 Farm to Fuel Summit, held July 29 to 31 in Orlando, Fla. According to Crist, Florida has awarded more than $43 million in grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects since 2006, of which more than $23 million has been awarded to bioenergy projects.

"Florida's success as a national leader in renewable energy technology, including ethanol and other biofuel production, benefits the state's economy and environment while reducing our dependence on foreign oil," Crist said. "I am committed to continuing the diversification of Florida's energy portfolio and the development of our state as a green technology business hub."

An E10 mandate will go into effect in 2010 and second-generation biofuels will be a major part of an integrated solution for meeting Florida's energy needs, according to Crist. The state is currently funding research related to the production of ethanol from feedstocks such as sorghum and citrus waste.

Several future cellulosic ethanol producers have selected Florida sites for their production facilities, including Verenium Corp., Southeast Renewable Fuels LLC and Coskata Inc.

Verenium Corp. and British Petroleum plc partnered last year to form Highlands Ethanol LLC with the intent to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The company plans to break ground on a 36 MMgy cellulosic ethanol production facility in Highlands County, Fla., in 2010. Production is expected to begin by 2012. The joint venture recently announced Highlands Ethanol will do business under the name Vercipia Biofuels Latin for "green beginnings."

The Florida Energy and Climate Commission, tasked with disbursing money received by the state via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, recently awarded the company a $2.5 million grant for the project. Verenium said the project will provide the state's economy with up to 400 construction-related jobs and 140 permanent skilled jobs upon the plant's completion.

Florida-based Southeast Renewable Fuels LLC made recent advancements related to its proposed sweet sorghum production facilities. In July, it announced a contract with local power provider Seminole Electric Cooperative to supply it with electricity generated through a combined heat and power system to be installed at the company's proposed Hendry County facility. The commission awarded Southeast Renewable Fuels a $2.5 million grant to be used to advance its project. In return, Southeast Renewable Fuels plans to employ approximately 47 full-time workers upon completion of the facility. Two additional sorghum-based production facilities are planned for locations to be named in Florida, according to Southeast Renewable Fuels Executive President and Chief Operating Officer Donald Markley.

Highlands EnviroFuels LLC received $305,000 from the commission for its Highlands County project, which will utilize no-till practices for sweet sorghum production and will convert the sorghum, as well as sugarcane, to ethanol at a 20 MMgy Brazilian-style facility. An estimated 30 to 40 jobs will be created upon the plant's completion.

Wes Bolsen, chief marketing officer and vice president of business development for Coskata Inc., recently told EPM that the company is making progress in its plans to develop a 100 MMgy cellulosic ethanol production facility in Clewiston, Fla. The plant would use sugarcane bagasse as feedstock and is dependent on a land sale and use agreement with U.S. Sugar as well as a grant from the state. Coskata did not receive any funding during the most recent round of energy and climate commission grant disbursements.

According to Crist, Florida was one of the first states to begin implementing funding received via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and has received $63 million ear-marked for economic development in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Money is being dispersed via the Florida Energy & Climate Commission, which was established by the state in 2008 to serve as the central office for state energy and climate change programs and policies.