From: Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee, Calif.
Published October 16, 2004 12:00 AM

Fresno, Calif., Conference on Alternative Fuels Looks at Job-Making Potential

Oct. 16—Factories turning corn, garbage and manure into fuel have the potential to create new jobs, pump money into the economy and reduce the dependence on foreign oil, according to speakers at a Fresno conference on alternative fuels.

About 50 people attended a daylong conference looking at the potential for a biofuel industry in the central San Joaquin Valley. The conference was held at the University of California Center on Shaw Avenue.

Experts say biofuels can be made from a number of sources grown or available in the region.

The challenge is financing the multimillion-dollar factories, developing a market for the fuel and any byproducts that come from the processing.

Among the fastest-growing biofuels is ethanol, a gasoline additive made from crops such as corn.

Mark Yancey of BBI International Consulting, said the U.S. ethanol industry is growing by 15 percent to 20 percent a year. Currently, 85 plants are in production and another 13 are under construction.

"And there are literally 100 ethanol projects being considered in the U.S. right now," said Yancey, director of consulting services for the Colorado firm.

Among the drivers increasing consumption in California and other regions is the phasing out of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether. MTBE was found to contaminate groundwater.

Yancey said that while the heart of the ethanol industry resides in the nation's Corn Belt, California entrepreneurs are beginning to make inroads.

"Plants here can compete very well," Yancey said.

Three ethanol plants are proposed in the Valley — two in Tulare County and one in Madera County.

Phoenix BioIndustries in Goshen is expected to begin operating June 2005 and will produce 25 million gallons of ethanol a year. Calgren Renewable Fuels is building a 40 million-gallon ethanol plant in Pixley that is expected to begin construction early next year and open by April 2006.

Combined the two plants would create about 55 jobs.

In Madera County, Pacific Ethanol — a company founded by west Fresno County farmer and U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones — expects to complete its financing by the end of the year and begin a 10-to-12 month construction phase. The company will hire about 35 employees.

Jones, who delivered the conference's keynote address, has been kicking around the idea of ethanol for two decades.

Jones said California's consumption of ethanol is increasing as a replacement to MTBE and one of the processing byproducts is a good feed source for the region's burgeoning dairy industry.

Tulare County is the nation's leading milk producer in the nation, generating more than $1 billion last year.

"We also need to look at being energy independent and ethanol will help us do that," Jones said.

Other biofuels discussed at the conference were fuels made from vegetable oil and animal fat known as biodiesel.

Graham Noyes, vice president of sales for World Energy Alternatives, said that the biodiesel industry is about five to 10 years behind the ethanol industry but is still continuing to grow.

The military is among the biodiesel industries primary users, Noyes said. And he also is seeing great interest among Midwest farmers searching for a cleaner-burning alternative to regular diesel.

Sharon Shoemaker, executive director of the California Institute of Food and Agriculture, said that several things must occur before the biofuels industry can truly be successful: political leaders must embrace the technology; prices need to be reasonable; the industry must unify; and government must provide financial incentives.

© 2004, The Fresno Bee, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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