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State becoming major player in bioproducts, renewable energy

With Mississippi’s emerging role in the field of renewable energy, it’s no wonder that an annual Southern BioProducts and Renewable Energy Conference is held in the state. The seventh conference was recently held at Pearl River Resort, hosted by the Mississippi Biomass Council. Numerous speakers discussed research and projects with the 140 people in attendance.

“It’s a sign of the times,” says Sumesh Arora, director of strategic biomass initiatives with the Mississippi Technology Alliance. “The conference serves two main purposes — to find out the latest in the fields of renewable energy and bioproducts and to provide a forum for networking. It’s a good mix of policy makers, academia and people from outside the sate looking to do projects here.”

Brent Bailey, immediate past president of the Mississippi Biomass Council, says the sponsoring organization, which began in 1998, hopes to share goals and objectives to bring about new technology and energy.

“We had folks from 11 states at the conference. A lot of them are policy makers, and that helps to hear positive messages,” he said. “We can help diversify an energy portfolio with home grown energy solutions. These solutions are growing slowly in Mississippi, and there are still some technology challenges, particularly with bio fuels.”

Among those challenges, the state doesn’t have the sun of the Midwest or the wind of the Northwest, nor does it have regulatory mandates or the type of programs in effect that create attractive incentives to install and utilize renewable sources.

“We’re having more dialogue on these issues, and the council and the conference are fostering that,” Bailey said. “We had knowledgeable speakers with real-world experience at the conference. We are a little behind, but in due time we will stimulate some new thinking, especially with the high fuel prices we have now.”

Arora says there are currently 13 projects in the state working with biomass and bio energy along with five facilities capable of making biodiesel, not counting the large ethanol plant that will open soon in Vicksburg.

“The bio diesel plant in Natchez is major and may become the largest in the country,” he added. “There are others located in Greenville, New Albany, Nettleton and Columbus.”

Additionally, there are five projects in various stages that use animal waste to make natural gas for heating.

“It’s a learning process that we need to go through to be ready to move away from fossil fuels,” Arora said. “We have to think about it to be ready, and we have to try to educate people and provide unbiased information. In a lot of segments, we find a positive reception.”

He says Mississippi is an excellent place for alternative energy production because there are abundant animal wastes, crop residue, forestry wastes and residue, and feed stocks, grasses and trees can be easily grown.

“These feed stocks can be harvested as non-food crops. We are aware of not making food costs increase and don’t want to fight with food crops,” he said. “I see a bright future in renewable energy for the state. We’re increasing awareness of these issues and bringing in people from all walks of life.”

Bailey and his organization hope to stimulate some strategies this summer to initiate regulatory mandates in the state. He cites as positives the state’s geography, climate and land base that allow the growth of lots of biomass that can be converted into energy.

As Southeast Area Facilitator for the 2025 X 2025 Vision, Bailey sees research and projects in various stages in the state.

“Mississippi is in a great position to be part of the solution,” he said. “We can overcome the challenges to meet this need. We have to create a market. It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg thing. Do we start growing crops now?”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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