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Kentucky hopes for bumper crop in biofuel

Kentucky and a biofuel company are hoping a new alternative crop will help wean the nation off its dependency on foreign oil.
Image: Miscanthus grass is harvested
Miscanthus is harvested much like wheat or any tall grass.University of Illinois
/ Source: The Associated Press

A biofuel company is hoping the future of energy consumption in Kentucky may be in the soil, not the coal mines.

Midwestern Biofuels unveiled its ambitious plan to turn acres of eastern Kentucky land into a source of cleaner fuel last week.

Gov. Steve Beshear and several other state officials planted four rows of miscanthus seedlings at the dedication ceremony last week, the first step in an operation the company hopes will provide years of energy to the state.

Miscanthus is a perennial grass native to Asia and Africa. The grass will eventually be turned into energy pellets. The pellets will then be used by coal-fired electricity generating plants as a source of low-emissions fuel.

The company is planting about 800 acres of miscanthus across the area and plans to enlist local farmers to join in the effort. Midwestern Biofuels will pay farmers within a 50-mile radius of the facility to grow the grass on a per-acre rate.

The plant is considered perfect for a biofuel because it grows rapidly, has low mineral content and a high biomass yield. Once planted, miscanthus can be harvested yearly for up to 20 years.

The facility will produce the first pellets by early June said Midwestern Biofuels president Jeff Lowe. The facility is also a boon to the local economy. Lowe estimated 200 to 300 people will be employed at the facility when it reaches full capacity.

"What's only being talked about in other places is being done right here," Lowe said.

State Environmental and Energy Secretary Len Peters said miscanthus is the "right crop" for Kentucky.

Beshear said the plant is a natural fit for the area and praised the way it will continue the state's agriculture and manufacturing traditions.

"Energy is going to be the driver of economies all over the world," Beshear said.