Gov. Bill Haslam tours Vonore biofuel sites

September 6, 2011

6 News Reporter

To view video coverage, click here. J&S Construction is scheduled to complete this $3 million project by the end of September.

VONORE (WATE) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was in Monroe County Tuesday afternoon to tour a small-scale biorefinery that's being called the first of its kind.

The refinery is designed to turn agricultural waste and easy-to-grow crops into fuel and has been operating for a year and a half.

The governor's tour was meant to showcase the progress of the project.

Gov. Haslam was first taken to Color Wheel Farms, one of many switchgrass farms in the area that have been contracted to grow 5,100 acres of the crop, which is used to make biofuel.

"It feels good to go to bed at night knowing you have a payday at the end of the year," said Kim Black, who runs the farm with her husband.

That is financial security for the farmers, who say switchgrass for the most part grows on its own.

The next part of the governor's tour took him to the Biomass Innovation Park, which is still under construction. Switchgrass is brought there and stored in bales.

The final part of the tour went to Cellulosic Ethanol Biorefinery, where switchgrass is converted to biofuel.

Refinery officials, state leaders, and farmers hope the site will ultimately help put an end to our country's dependency on foreign oil.

"If we can produce a product where we are not subject to the vagaries of the oil market, and it's a clean product that is domestically available, that's a huge win for us," said Gov. Haslam.

Until we get there, Tennessee farmers are cheering on the project.

"It's a bridge between feeding ourselves and feeding the world," said Black.

Switchgrass is currently being converted to biofuel only on an experimental basis. Commercial production is expected to start next year.

The site is already making commercial ethanol from corn.

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