Tasty, Mesquite-Flavored Ethanol on the Way

by Val Germann

Yes, it’s true! Someday before too long a gas station near you may feature tasty, Texas-Mesquite ethanol. It’s an idea whose time has no doubt come, as a recent article on the TERRADAILY website indicates:

The dense mesquite-covered mid-section of Texas could provide fuel for about 400 small ethanol plants, according to one Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researcher.

How about that, ethanol from mesquite, of which there seems to be a Texas-sized supply in, well, in Texas. And this is just in time to power the Longhorn State back into the energy fast lane, considering that it’s being passed by Alberta as an oil-producing region. Yes, ethanol sounds like a true energy bonanza to me.

Of course, as always, there are a few blips on the radar, like:

A patented process to convert the wood into ethanol is being tested in a prototype plant in Mississippi, Ansley said.

Well, that’s a lock, I’d say! No problem there. And I’m sure it’s a low-emission, no-waste process that will leave that beautiful Texas landscape as pure as the driven snow.

And there may be another small cloud:

A commercial refinery producing 5 million gallons of ethanol per year will require about 30,000 acres to sustain it, an approximate four- to five-mile radius if the refinery is located near the middle of the mesquite stand, Ansley said.

That’s a fair sized area, I’d say. But it is Texas, after all, so maybe that’s not so large a swath as it seems. But the mesquite will have to be harvested, with some kind of machine, which likely does not exist yet. But it just so happens, luckily, that someone has already thought of that:

Working with private cooperators, Ansley has helped design a harvester that is in the patent-pending stages. He hopes to have it ready for demonstration at an Oct. 5 field day at the Vernon station.

Wait a minute, isn’t this Ansley fellow the same researcher who has been driving the academic end of this whole thing?

Working with a Mississippi company, Ansley is studying the supply, harvest technologies, ethanol conversion rates and ecological effects of mesquite-to-ethanol production.

Yes, Ansley is! And he’s going to evaluate everything, from the energy available in mesquite all the way to the ecological effects, which I’m sure will be small. Sounds like a slam dunk to me, especially if there’s government money involved.

A State Energy Conservation Office grant has allowed his team to study harvest of different regrowth rates, as well as develop a mechanized system of harvesting mesquite.

Well, that’s it, then, all sewed up. A new ethanol process that will scour the Texas desert over hundreds of thousands of acres, and is being powered by taxpayer money, has every prospect of “success.”

This writer’s admiration knows no bounds.

Hook ’em, Horns!

Read the entire article here.

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About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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