by David Ball
A University of North Florida research group and three other Jacksonville businesses are among more than 200 statewide applicants vying for $37.5 million in grant money to develop alternative energy technologies.
The grants, administered by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, were funded by the 2007 Legislature as a way to stimulate capital investment in technologies to decrease the state’s carbon emissions and dependency on foreign oil.
In fact, State Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson hopes his department’s Farm-to-Fuel initiative will result in the Florida agriculture industry producing 25 percent of the state’s energy needs by the year 2025 through the harvesting of goods like corn and soybean that can be processed into ethanol, biodiesel and other alternative fuels.
“This is a nearly three-year-old effort by Commissioner Bronson to initiate and trigger a major renewable energy industry on Florida farms,” said Department of Agriculture spokesperson Terry McElroy. “It will have a two-fold effect of lessening this state’s dependency on foreign oil while at the same time giving Florida farmers another crop to grow on their land and sell.”
However, Duval County is not known as a crop-producing county. Among the 76 Farm-to-Fuel grant proposals seeking a total of $161 million ($25 will be granted), the only Jacksonville applicant is H.R. Lewis Petroleum, a seller and distributor of petroleum, diesel fuel and lubricants.
The company is requesting $285,000 in grant money to go with $1.3 million of its own money (all grant applicants are required to cost-share) to develop a biodiesel manufacturing facility powered partially by solar power, generating 2.6 million gallons of vegetable oil-based fuel.
H.R. Lewis Vice President of Operations Alton Duckett said Florida companies like his can still be an important link in the biofuel chain, and they too could benefit from grant funding.
“We can be a consumer of the products, and we can help distribute them and bring them to the people that will use it,” said Duckett. “I really don’t see Florida being a major producer of agri-based products.”
H.R. Lewis is maximizing its chances by also applying for $435,000 from the DEP’s $12.5 million Renewable Energy Technologies Grant supporting projects using renewable energy sources such as hydrogen, biomass, solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, ocean energy, waste heat and hydroelectric power.
Nearly 140 statewide applicants are requesting some $200 million in total funds.
Jacksonville applicant Thermal Conversion Technology, Inc. (TCT Solar) is requesting $1.08 million for a $1.5 million project to develop an advanced non-metallic solar thermal absorber plate in solar water heaters to replace the standard copper tubing.
SunNRgy Equity, another Jacksonville company, is requesting nearly $2.5 million for a $10 million project to commercialize a remote monitoring, control and billing service for renewable energy generations systems.
But while these companies are looking for funds to help launch a product or service, professor James Fletcher at the UNF School of Engineering is looking for help with research.
Fletcher has applied for a little more than $1.1 million for a $3 million project titled “Research and Demonstration of Fuel Cell Transportation Technology Utilizing Bio-Derived Fuels,” which is planned to refurbish, research and demonstrate fuel cell technology using bio-derived methanol.
According to the project summary in the application, UNF is partnering with the Federal Transit Administration and Georgetown University, which are providing a 40-foot and two 30-foot methanol-fueled hybrid transit buses to research and test the possibility of such technology in mass transportation.
“With new technologies, alternative fuels have the promise of competitive cost, low regulated emissions and near carbon-neutral cycles, as well as being critical to the energy security of Florida,” states the summary. “With implementation of this project, UNF and (University of Florida) researchers and students will investigate transportation-based fuel cell hardware to levels equal to or better than any other university in the country.”
The project is expected to include a year-long, statewide demonstration of the buses to the public and K-12 students as well as provide leading-edge research for graduate students.
State officials said grants will be awarded in February 2008 at a maximum of $2.5 million per project, which will be reimbursed to the award winners based on work completed.
Last year, DEP and the DACS provided $15 million in grant funding to eight organizations during the first year of the Renewable Energy Technologies Grant Program. One of those companies, Florida Biomass Energy Consortium, received a grant award of $2.5 million to develop a biomass gasification system at a wallboard manufacturing plant in Jacksonville.
In the biomass gasification, the company would burn renewable resources like wood chips, paper and wallboard wastes and pelletized switch grass instead of natural gas to dry manufactured wallboard.
For more information about the Renewable Energy Technologies Grant Program, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/energy. For more information on Florida’s Farm-to-Fuel program, visit http://www.floridafarmtofuel.com.