La. lawmakers consider support for alternative energy program

Legislators from the Acadiana delegation were given an inside look at future possibilities of producing alternative energy in Louisiana to combat nearly $4 per gallon gasoliine prices.

Mark Zappi, Ph.D., dean of engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, presented information, Wednesday, April 30, on an ultimate goal to advance research and eventually market biofuels and other alternative forms of energy based in Louisiana.

“The state ranks second in total energy production, Zappi said. “But we’re also third in terms of energy utilization.

The Clean Power and Energy Research Consortium (CPERC) is a state supported organization composed of researchers from UL Lafayette, LSU, the LSU AgCenter, Tulane, Nicholls State, Southern and the University of New Orleans.

Zappi said the state has better potential to produce ethanol from lignocellulosic processing than it does from processed sugar or corn. This process is already being tested at the Verenium Corp. plant in Jennings, the first commercialized lignocellulosic ethanol plant in the United States.

“Everybody is watching what we do down here, in Jennings, to see if lignocellulosic ethanol is going to become a reality,” Zappi boasted.

In the case of biofuel production, Zappi said the feedstock, palm oils are being imported into the United States.

“Here we are thinking we are producing all these biofuels, and getting energy independence from Saudi Arabia, but we’re importing palm oil from Asia,” Zappi lamented. “Much of our focus is maturing alternative energy options, but using U.S.-based feedstocks, hopefully Louisiana-based feedstocks.

“We (Louisiana) have quite an amazing agriculture industry–very diverse–but it’s got a lot of capability of producing these biofuels.”

Though CPERC has contributed considerable effort to producing biofuels, providing alternative energy to the state’s energy grid is also a priority. Zappi, a St. Martinville native, recently returned to his hometown to develop a solution to the city’s rapidly inflated electric bills.

He said developments in solar and hydroelectric power are being explored in the small city that is home to 8,000 residents. These technologies have been developed to produce steam to power turbines, so that even at night the city’s power grid would be fed electricity.

CPERC’s visions do not end with simply the conventional forms of feedstocks. Zappi introduced the group of legislators to biodiesel derived from municipal sewage.

“This biodiesel is as good, if not better, than soybean-based (biodiesel),” Zappi said. “What we like about this is that it solves an environmental problem and we can produce it at half the cost of soybean-based diesel on today’s market.”

Yet another benefit of the sewage-derived fuel is because it is produced in urban areas, transportation costs are drastically decreased for the shipping of the finished product.

Zappi reassured the group that the exhaust produced from the sewage-derived fuel does not smell like its unprocessed source.

Lafayette legislators chimed in on the thought of CPERC continuing the research projects.

“Ethanol obviously is not the solution,” said state Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, organizer of the gathering. “Ethanol is pulling a commodity out of the food market. It’s driving up the prices of beef.”

State Rep. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said he would support the program to boost research in the alternative fuels market.

“It kinda singles us out as somebody different in the country,” Cortez said. “It’s an economic development tool. With all he discussed, the energy utilization and production, it is a natural fit.”

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