Alternate fuel is on the way -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Alternate fuel is on the way

May 16, 2006

Worth County-- One of Georgia's greatest natural resources could be turned into gas to help break our dependance on foreign oil. Georgia has nearly twenty-five million acres of trees, more than any other state.

Richard Thomas knows quite a bit about pine trees. He's been growing them for thirty-five years.

"Tree farming for me and most of my friends it's a form of recreation," he says. The trees on his twelve hundred acre farm could soon be used make ethanol, thanks to a material found inside the trees called cellulose.

"If the conversion rates are what they say they are which is very attractive almost five times better than corn or sugar, then I think it's something that needs to be looked at," he says.

"Trees are our largest cellulose factories. You can make ethanol through anything that has cellulose in it. We hope to do that, so we can utilize more of our renewable resource," says Chuck Norvall, with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

He says the state is searching for ways to ease the pain at the pump for drivers. "As the prices of gas goes higher and higher, it's going to be more economical to build plants that can covert cellulose bio-mass into ethanol," he says.

Using the trees for ethanol would serve as another source of income for growers, like Thomas.

"If bio-fuels and cellulose conversions plants could offer us a second market for it that would be great," he says.

Not all pine trees have a market. It's thin timber that actually prevents good timber from growing. As a result, it's cut down and wasted rather than being used for bio-fuel.

"The portion of the tree that doesn't return much of an economic value to the land owner that can all be turned into ethanol," says Norvell.

Right now, forestry experts are figuring how to do just that. "There also looking to develop a system to convert that bio-mass that is not utilized when there's a harvest, and turn it into something combustible," says Norvell.

"The people in Tifton and Athens and Georgia Tech are looking at it very seriously, I hope they can develop something in the next two or three years," says Thomas.

Until then, Richard has no plans to quit the tree growing industry anytime soon. He says if his trees can save drivers money: "I would love to see timber utilized," he says.

According to experts at Georgia Tech, the sale of cellulose ethanol could bring in 100 million dollars.