Southeast Launches Biomass/Biofuels Research and Demonstration Field

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., July 19, 2012 — The Department of Agriculture at Southeast Missouri State University today held a grand opening ceremony for its Biomass/Biofuels Research and Demonstration Field at Southeast’s Sikeston campus.

Southeast has identified a five-acre plot in its working farm behind the Sikeston campus at 2401 N. Main to use in launching this initiative. A $200,000, two-year grant from the Delta Regional Authority, the Missouri Research Corporation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture is funding the effort.

Officials with Southeast Missouri State University, the Delta Regional Authority, the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Missouri Delta Ag Bioworks participated in today’s grand opening festivities.

Biomass is any plant material that can be converted into a fuel source or an alternative to chemicals in plastics, paints, carpets, adhesives, cosmetics, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and other products. Biomass is agricultural crops in harvested, unprocessed form, including locally grown row crops, such as corn, and residues, alternative crops and woody biomass. Biomass ranges from stalks and leaves left after a harvest to sweet sorghum, Miscanthus, switch grass, sunflowers, canola and sugar beets grown specifically for use as biomass.

Sweet sorghum is currently growing in the demonstration field in Sikeston and will be harvested in the fall. The juices in sorghum can be pressed out and converted to ethanol for use as fuel for motor vehicles. In addition, the fiber stalks can be ground into animal field, said Dr. Mike Aide, chair of Southeast’s Department of Agriculture.

“We will concentrate on sweet sorghum because it has such great promise,” he said.

Chris Evans, director of Missouri Delta Ag Bioworks and located in the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce office, is working to assist the seven Bootheel counties of Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi, Stoddard, Butler, Dunklin and Pemiscot in finding new biomass-based economic development opportunities.

He says the Biomass/Biofuels Research and Demonstration Field also could be used to grow Giant Miscanthus and canola in the near future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is focusing on using Giant Miscanthus as a supplement to coal in some local power plants for direct energy production, Evans said.

Aide said canola will be planted in the demonstration field in Sikeston next spring with plans to convert it to biodiesel. Canola also can be crushed and converted into cooking oil and feed stock.

“The Mid-South is ideally suited for the production of biomass and biofuel production,” and this region could become the center of this new agriculture, Aide said.

The establishment of this biomass and biofuels research and demonstration field is a commitment to partner with the private sector to advance the necessary technologies that could ultimately transform our region into the most sustained and productive agriculture region in North America, he said.

The facility will be available to other agriculture partners in higher education as well as those in the private sector interested in investing their research in the Mid-South region, Aide said. Research will be conducted on growing biomass profitably and area farmers will be invited to learn how to grow biomass for the supply chain.

“We will be a magnet for (private companies” to focus here,” he said, adding, “We want to put farmers on the cutting edge in biomass/biofuel production.”

“We are attempting to advance economic development in this region and build a supply chain for companies wanting to make biomass/biofuels products,” Evans said.

“This will provide an entirely new base for us,” Aide said. “We have the perfect climate and length of growing season.

By conducting agronomic and economic feasibility studies, southeast Missouri will be positioned for accelerated growth of the industrial and energy sectors, creating biotechnology careers and opportunities for our citizens, he said.