Dr. Jim Ansley, Experiment Station rangeland researcher at Vernon, is determining the feasibility of developing a bio-energy industry in rural West Central Texas. The industry would be based on the harvest and use of rangeland woody plants, such as mesquite and red berry juniper, as an energy source.
"We've had so much more interest in this since gas prices went up last summer," Ansley said. "That's going to be a real driving variable. If gas prices continue to go up, I think we could very well see a first generation refinery built in Texas to handle mesquite within five years."
The vision is to build as many as 400 refineries around the state based on mesquite wood. If other woods are considered, the number could go as high as 1,000, he said.
Working with an Aberdeen, Miss. company, Ansley is studying the supply, harvest technologies, ethanol conversion rates and ecological effects of mesquite-to-ethanol production.
One ton of mesquite wood will yield about 200 gallons of ethanol, he said. An acre of the densely populated mesquite standing 10 to 12 feet tall will yield about 8 to 10 tons of wood.
A commercial refinery producing 5 million gallons of ethanol per year will require about 30,000 acres to sustain it, an approximate four- to five-mile radius if the refinery is located near the middle of the mesquite stand, Ansley said.
"The thing that will make this fail is if people think a bigger refinery in the big cities is better," he said. "That's where it will fail. The transport costs to get the feedstock to the refinery will kill you."
Building smaller refineries in the rural regions where the mesquite is
located is the key to making this work, he said. Each refinery would
Contact: Dr. Jim Ansley
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications