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Florida breaks ground for cellulosic ethanol plant

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy set a goal that, by 2030, a third of the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels would be replaced by environmentally sound products made from plant material usually discarded as trash.

Recently, despite technical hurdles and the worldwide economic recession, representatives from the University of Florida, Buckeye Technologies Inc. and the Florida Legislature broke ground for a facility that could be a significant step toward reaching that goal.

The Stan Mayfield Biorefinery Pilot Plant, slated to be operational in spring 2011, will be operated as a UF/IFAS satellite laboratory facility concentrated on the use of cellulosic biomass to produce ethanol.

“We would not be here today without the exceptional foresight and support of those who realize, even in these trying economic times, how important this work is to our future,” said UF President Bernie Machen, who led the groundbreaking ceremony.

Funded by a $20 million appropriation from the Florida Legislature, the plant will be built at the Perry, Fla. facility of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cellulose-based specialty products made from wood and cotton.

Much of the plant’s research will be based on the work of Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science and director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels.

Ingram engineered an E. coli bacterium that breaks down inedible plant material into sugars that can be processed into fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol. Variations of the technology are already at work in fuel plants in Louisiana and Japan.

The UF Board of Trustees named the facility for Stan Mayfield, a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 until his death in 2008.

An alumnus of UF’s College of Engineering, he was a leader in education and environmental issues. As chairman of the Florida House’s Environmental and Natural Resources Council, he championed energy research, including funding for the Perry plant.

“The plant will continue his vision and concentrate on the research and development of new renewable resources from cellulosic biomass,” said Debbie Mayfield, Stan Mayfield’s widow and member of the Florida House of Representatives. “This is a great day in the state of Florida. The only thing that would make it better is if Stan were here with us.”

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