On providing real-world numbers for farmers…

“We must give farmers realistic numbers. A grower must feed his family, bottom line. If they can’t feed their family, forget biofuels because they’re going to go with a crop they can make a living growing, year after year in a sustainable way.

“American farmers are the most productive in the world. And they have to deal with many issues that farmers in other countries don’t. The American farmer is a businessman, an entrepreneur and numerous other roles.

“In the case of biofuels, we have to speak to farmers honestly. We must present them with real numbers, real consequences – not appeal to them via emotions or what we hope or wish (biofuel feedstocks) will provide.

“In our study group, we have four economics professors from different areas. One is Mike Salassi from Louisiana, who is collaborating with colleagues from Texas, Kentucky and Arkansas. So, there will be a widely dispersed group looking at production scenarios across the Southeast. They will provide real numbers, honest numbers.”

On expectations regarding the project…

“The (USDA-backed) project is for five years.

“Part of it will be building a small plant next to the Audubon Institute. That should be operational in about 18 months. With the help of research partners, we’ll be producing syrups from crops – sweet sorghum and energy cane -- grown right next door.

“We’ll create samples for different conversion partners. They’ll then provide us with feedback. They’ll tell us what needs to be modified with pre-treatments and treatments of the feedstocks.

“Also, there is an engineering team as part of the research group. We’ll try to generate the numbers of capital and operating costs. Then, we’ll pass that to the economists for regional scenario evaluations.

“So, by the end of the grant’s five years we expect to have solid numbers for sorghum and cane, for several select fuels and chemicals.

“Also, we’re trying to create a regional system that will provide access to other partners. For example, if someone if interested in building a factory in the Southeast – say, they want to use sweet sorghum grown in Mississippi – there’s no reason they can’t bring us a sample. We’ll process and evaluate it and give them the analysis to (show if it’s viable).

“Then, they can go to area farmers and present them with the information and go from there.

“Again, we must provide honest analysis, honest numbers. Right now, there are a lot of people running around throwing a lot of dubious numbers. And how is a farmer to know they’re speaking truth? Where does he go to find out or screen them?

“The Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing could help with that. We’re trying coordinate efforts and create a knowledge base for those types of numbers, to be able to say ‘these figures are unrealistic. Forget those. These numbers over here, however, are reasonable and this company is worth working with.’ Too many people are currently jumping on the bandwagon trying to get quick money out of (biofuels).”