Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fill 'er up...with citrus peels?

Can that corn. Make your ethanol with grapefruit and orange peels.

That's the plan in Florida, where Citrus Energy, LLC plans to build a 4 million gallons per year ethanol bio-refinery, using the state's plentiful, low-cost supply of citrus waste as the feedstock. The company calls citrus waste "the most economically attractive and technically feasible of the potential cellulosic feedstocks" and claims the process is less costly than using corn.

The company's website lays out the economics behind the idea:

"Florida has 100 million citrus trees on 800,000 acres which provide 250 million boxes of citrus (80% of U.S. production) and 90 % goes to Florida’s 20 citrus processing plants, producing over 5 million tons of citrus waste annually. Most of the citrus processing waste is dried into what is commonly referred to as citrus pulp pellets (CPP) and fed to cattle. The production of CPP requires a large capital investment by the processor with little if any return on investment. During recent years, processors have been unable to sell CPP for a price high enough to pay for processing costs, let alone their capital investment. The CPP losses are borne by the main product from citrus, orange or grapefruit juice. Due to the high capital cost, many small citrus juice processors are unable to install feed mills to produce CPP, leaving them with tons of citrus waste for disposal. This has contributed to several small processors closing in recent years, reducing the demand for citrus fruit and depressing fruit prices paid to growers.

Florida, like some other areas of the country does not have suitable climate for corn production and requires alternate ethanol feedstock development. Citrus processing waste, a pectin, cellulose and soluble sugar rich mixture of peel, segment membranes and seeds is available on a large scale and at A VERY LOW COST. "

Does all this sound more ideal that real? Perhaps not. Today, FPL Energy, LLC, a subsidiary of FPL Group, which is the $16-billion parent of one of the nation's largest electric utilities, Florida Power and Light, announced it had signed a letter of agreement with Citrus Energy to develop the first ever commercial scale citrus peel to ethanol plant.

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