"One aspect of mesquite that makes it an attractive renewable fuel is once the above ground growth has been harvested, it sprouts back pretty vigorously," Ansley said. "We're looking at how long it takes before it can be economically harvested again."
A State Energy Conservation Office grant has allowed his team to study harvest of different regrowth rates, as well as develop a mechanized system of harvesting mesquite.
Working with private cooperators, Ansley has helped design a harvester that is in the patent-pending stages. He hopes to have it ready for demonstration at an Oct. 5 field day at the Vernon station.
"We've run some trials with it and we think we have a technique that is workable for gathering this mesquite wood," he said. "That has not been done before."
Ranchers have long been looking for a way to utilize the mesquite growing wild on their pasturelands, but until now, nothing has looked economical, Ansley said.
Mesquite could be used in a wood-fired power plant, but "we think there's much greater potential with ethanol."
A patented process to convert the wood into ethanol is being tested in a prototype plant in Mississippi, Ansley said.
In Texas, the prime area to harvest mesquite is the middle third of the state: a band bordered on the west by a line from Childress to Del Rio and on the east from Decatur to Austin.
"We're talking small travel distance from wood source to these refineries, about 4 to 5 miles," Ansley said. "They would process about 5 million gallons per year of ethanol, which would require about 30,000 acres. Only about 10 percent would be harvested each year, with about 10 years needed for regrowth."
Livestock and wildlife operations should co-exist with a harvest area
and be improved with enhanced grass growth and patterned harvest of
mesquite, he said.
Contact: Dr. Jim Ansley
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications