Nevada-based Emerald Energy has hybridized and began issuing saplings to grow a hybrid tree called the MegaFlora. The tree, a cross between the hardwood Black Locust and the deep-rooted Paulownia, can grow on marginal land, requires less water than most commercial crops and can be used as a source for biofuel production.
The tree is estimated to grow up to 50 feet in three years. Its high sugar content makes it a potential source for biofuel production.
Ray Allen, a botanist and CEO of Emerald Energy who has been evaluating the tree and its properties for years, said the tree has multiple uses. Its high sugar content makes it a potential source for biofuel production. Gary Banuelos, a plant and soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service in Parlier California said he is slightly skeptical of the tree’s ability to survive the west side’s poor soil and water conditions. “A tree with an aggressive root system will tap into the water table where the levels of salt and boron will be very high,” Banuelos said. “So if the irrigation water does not knock them out, the water table could prevent them from growing.”
Allen and the MegaFlora tree may not be widely known, but that should soon change. He is included in the upcoming documentary “Fuel,” which looks at the oil industry and energy alternatives such as solar, wind and biofuels. The film has received several awards including the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. “We have been quietly going about our business,” Allen said. “But it is time to expand this.”
Ceil Howe’s sprawling Kings County California ranch has a greenhouse with tiny MegaFlora that he hopes holds big potential for San Joaquin Valley farmers. Howe and a handful of partnering farmers are growing hundreds of the saplings which are now just a few inches tall and plan to plant them over hundreds of acres in the San Joaquin Valley. The MegaFloras are already planted in the nearby Kettleman Hills and the marginal soils of Fresno County.
Bill Jones, founder of Sacramento-based Pacific Ethanol, which has a plant in Madera County, said he and other ethanol producers are looking for renewable and affordable sources to make biofuel. “If it has dual uses and can be grown in highly saline water conditions, then it is worth looking at.”
Allen already has attracted the attention of Kansas farmers, the documentary filmmaker mentioned above and investors, including Titan Global Industries, a Texas company with interests in telecommunications, electronics and energy resources. Michael D’ Onofrio, vice president of mergers and acquisitions for Titan, visited Howe’s ranch earlier this week as part of a tour sponsored by the Farming Clean Energy Conference in Tulare. D’ Onofrio said his company is interested in the tree for biofuel. One of Titan’s divisions, Titan Global Energy, is focused on the production and distribution of environmentally friendly and sustainable sources of renewable fuels.
Fast growing plants that can lock up CO2 for the most easily recovered and processed carbon products are an area of intense interest. But so far the numbers such as ethanol or biodiesel per acre numbers are pretty limited even though some like algae and sugarcane are impressive. Just what the future holds for carbon dioxide to biofuel plant matter is truly speculative.
What we’re looking for is the annual net tons of carbon product per land unit area price. If humanities’ innovation in the huge commodity crops since Mendel first began the hybridization and genetics technology over one hundred years ago is an indicator, then biofuels are likely to produce the millions of barrels of oil equivalent per day sooner that many expect. It might be that processing technology will fall behind with the capital formation problems in the current economic situation.
The process from sunlight and CO2 to new fuels endlessly recycling within the planet’s carbon cycle is coming and high standards of living should become even more widespread across the earth’s peoples.