Local firm partners with Southern Normal on biofuel projects

Published 4:55 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2009

By By Kerry Whipple Bean

Ryan Robinson and Jeff Smith drove from Alexander City to Brewton this week in a truck powered by wood blocks.
While that’s not the most practical use of alternative energy, it’s the kind of creative “green” idea that a new company hopes to use as it launches an economic and educational partnership in Brewton.
Alabama Alternative Energy Solutions LLC and Alabama State University held a joint press conference Tuesday at ASU’s Southern Normal campus in Brewton, with experts in the alternative energy field on hand to demonstrate some of the technology.
Brewton geologist Roger Chapman — a longtime leader in the energy industry — is an investor in the new company, which will have offices in the old Liberty National building.
Richardson and Smith, who work for ECON, a division of Russell Lands on Lake Martin, demonstrated their wood-powered pickup truck on the Southern Normal campus Tuesday. The truck uses a wood gasification technique similar to one used during World War II when fuel was scarce.
Russell Lands built a wood-powered station wagon in 1979 and used it to drive from Florida to California. Officials will be making a 30th anniversary coast-to-coast trip this year.
AAES partner Tom Silver also demonstrated a biodiesel engine that can run on cooking oil and grease — one that generates enough power to run one of the buildings on the ASU campus, Silver said.
The engine Silver brought had been powering a chicken farm in Alabama.
AAES partner George Turnipseed said the company’s partnership with ASU-Southern Normal is key to its success. Block grants through the federal stimulus package are available for counties and communities interested in alternative fuels, and ASU will be seeking funds to help research new technology.
Southern Normal Director Dr. RoseMary Watkins said ASU’s goal is for the campus to become “the premiere site for technology transfer” in alternative fuels.
Later this month, a mini-biodiesel refinery will be moved to the Southern Normal campus as part of the project, which Watkins said will help further define the school’s role in Brewton.
Chapman said bringing private investors on board with researchers is an important step to bring projects to light.
Chapman said Alabama Alternative Energy Solutions has talked to Escambia County Schools officials about the possibility of using biodiesel in school buses. Other potential uses include producing clean dry heat for poultry houses and greenhouses; fueling municipal or county vehicles; and generating electricity from methane gas.
While it is still too early to say how many jobs the new company could create, Chapman said he hopes the company could grow to serve the region.