Atmore lands biofuel project

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

By By MaryClaire Foster
Gov. Bob Riley was in town Tuesday to discuss what he called the first step in a process to make Alabama a leader in the alternative fuel industry.
If all goes well, Atmore may become home to the first production of sugar cane for use as jet fuel by the Air Force in the nation, which could lead to a billion dollar investment.
One hundred acres of land has been cultivated and planted with sugar cane seed as a test site on property owned by the Department of Corrections and leased to Auburn University. The land is adjacent to Holman Correctional Facility.
To make this project possible, the state partnered with Amyris Biotechnologies, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and Auburn University.
Alabama was scouted as a location because a board member of Hudson-Alpha Institute in Huntsville is an investor in Amyris, and he facilitated a meeting between Gov. Riley and Amyris CEO John Melo.
According to its Web site, Amyris is “a renewable products company devoted to creating a more sustainable world.”
Melo told of his skepticism towards Alabama being a possible site for a bio-fuel crop and how his meeting with Gov. Riley made him change his perspective.
Four types of sugar cane are being grown to test the viability of the crop for commercial production in Alabama. If successful, and area farmers begin to grow the crop, Amyris will seek funding to build a bio-fuel demonstration plant to convert the sugar cane to jet fuel.
Melo is positive about the potential this crop has.
If after a year, the crop proves to be viable Melo said his company would put in large amounts of capital to fund mass production.
As of now, Melo said he sees no reason production would move from this area.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell expressed his appreciation to the state for their work on this project and his own favorable outlook on it.
The project is being funded through a $250,000 grant made possible by ADECA. Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System will manage the site.
Extension Specialist and Associate Professor at Auburn, Bob Goodman, said his main priority is the farmers.

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